OHS Canada Magazine

Cineplex urges Ontario to make changes to theatre occupancy limits

Stage 3 reopening guidelines cap theatres at total building occupancy of 50 people


By David Friend

TORONTO — Executives at Cineplex are urging the Ontario government to loosen restrictions over how many people can occupy its cinemas at a single time.

Dan McGrath, chief operating officer of the Canadian movie theatre chain, says the company has been in conversations with the province’s health ministry in hopes of revising limits to allow 50 moviegoers inside a single auditorium.

Ontario’s Stage 3 reopening guidelines, introduced last week, cap theatres at an occupancy of 50 people throughout the entire building, regardless of how many auditoriums it operates.

McGrath says the existing capacity rules don’t make economic sense for the chain as it faces regular costs of business, which include paying its employees.

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“Unless we can get 50 people per auditorium, we’d be operating at a loss,” he said on Wednesday. “We need that capacity in order to allow us to, at least, be profitable.”

Other provinces less restrictive

Cineplex has reopened 36 locations in provinces where distancing measures are less restrictive, introducing new seating arrangements to meet guidelines and boosting its cleaning procedures, but its Ontario theatres remain closed.

Landmark Cinemas and Imagine Cinemas, two other chains that operate a number of multiplexes, have kept their theatres closed in the province as well.

However, some of the Ontario’s single-screen independent theatres have restarted screenings over the past week, including cinemas in Kingston and Waterloo.

The provincial government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cineplex faced a number of hurdles in recent months as it contended with a full closure of its theatres amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company was originally set to be purchased by Cineworld Group PLC for $2.8 billion, but the U.K.-based chain walked away from the agreement because of alleged material adverse effects — or unforeseen circumstances that affected the value of the deal — and breaches of contract.

Cineplex has denied the claims and says Cineworld is backing away from the deal because of buyer’s remorse.

Last week, the company laid off more than 130 employees as it faces an uncertain slate of movie releases in the coming months due to the pandemic.