Isaac Kaufman, 66, was set to walk into an SAQ outlet in the Ste-Rose district of Laval around noon Friday when a security guard asked him his age.

Because he was under 70, he was allowed in.

There were reports of incidents around Quebec on Friday of Société des alcools du Québec staff carding seniors in an effort to keep anyone 70 or older out of its stores.

Staff received orders from the provincial Crown corporation on Friday morning to “strongly dissuade or even bar entry” to people 70 or older in an effort to enforce Premier François Legault’s directive that they should stay away from public places because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Customers leave some space between themselves in line to get into the Société québécoise du cannabis store on Ste-Catherine St. in Montreal on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

John Mahoney /

Montreal Gazette

Kaufman said he was surprised to be asked his age, especially because his 81-year-old brother had no problem buying wine at an SAQ outlet in Dorval on Thursday.

“He asked my age; I said ’66.’ He said: ‘No problem, go in,’ ” Kaufman said.

“Do I feel it’s discriminatory? No. I think they’re being prudent. They’re saying: ’70 and over, that’s the danger zone.’

“If you have someone in your family that’s younger than 70, they get what you need for you. The government is saying that the older you are, the more susceptible you are to the disease.

“If I was 70 and couldn’t get in, I’d make arrangements and somebody would get it for me. I don’t take any offence.”

However, SAQ spokesperson Mathieu Gadreault said management made a mistake sending out that directive, because the SAQ is not allowed to bar anyone over 18 from entering — and staff was informed of this at noon Friday.

On Thursday, the SAQ introduced a number of measures to try to protect the health and safety of its employees and customers. Customers must pay with credit or debit cards — not cash — and the cards (including Inspire points cards) must be handled only by the customer.

The SAQ is limiting the number of customers — 10 at a time at a regular or Express outlet, 20 for Sélection, 35 for Dépôt outlets and 50 at Dépôt locations in Marché Central and in Quebec City.

Customers are asked to stay one metre apart from one another and staff.

The union representing SAQ employees has asked the stores be closed, but that idea has been rejected so far. Legault himself said during his daily news conference Friday they will remain open.

The SAQ outlet in Bromont was closed Wednesday after staff discovered a man who later tested positive for COVID-19 had visited the store. The store has since reopened.

Though there is anecdotal evidence of people stocking up on booze, Gadreault declined to reveal any sales figures.

Over at the Société québécoise du cannabis, business has been booming since the COVID-19 crisis hit hard in the last week, according to spokesperson Fabrice Giguère.

“We have seen an increase in our sales both online and in our stores for the past few days,” he said, adding there have been no supply shortages so far.

Like the SAQ, the SQDC is allowing only 10 customers in stores at a time, with no cash transactions. Giguère noted staff generally work behind the counter at a safe distance from customers.

Paul, a Kirkland resident who did not want his last name published, swung by the Pointe-Claire SQDC store on Thursday to buy some marijuana. He said many customers were surprised they couldn’t pay with cash.

“One of the concerns that many people have about using their credit card is that it’s registered on their statement, that you just bought weed at this drug store,” he said.

Paul said he fears this could have repercussions for people wanting to cross the border into the United States in the future “and they can see that you made a purchase at the SQDC.”

This is why many people prefer to pay cash when they visit an SQDC outlet, he said. “Now you come to what was traditionally a cash economy — drugs — and you’re told you can’t use cash.”

Paul bought 3.5 grams of marijuana for roughly $30.

“I thought maybe I’ll just throw something in the sock drawer in case the world shuts down,” he said.

“You might want to entertain yourself,” he added. “It’s going to be Netflix and chill by yourself.”


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