VANCOUVER -- Banquet halls are asking the province to allow them to increase their capacity to 50 per cent, in line with previous rules for restaurants.

A group representing halls in Surrey, Richmond and Vancouver said they’re losing tens of thousands of dollars a week in revenue. But so far, the government isn’t backing down.

The BC Banquet Hall Association wants to see a change to the 50-person cap on gatherings during the pandemic at their facilities. The group said if things don’t change, they might as well be shut down, because people are avoiding their businesses and breaking the rules at over-sized private gatherings instead.

Before the pandemic, the halls said they would often host large gatherings such as weddings and other functions. The group said it submitted a proposal in June for increased capacity to the province including a safety plan, but it was rejected.

Sukh Mann with the association said people are cancelling bookings, and some are having their own private gatherings instead, where the rules aren’t being enforced.

“They’re doing it in their backyards, they’re doing it at farms, they’re doing it at other outdoor facilities where there are no rules that are being applied,” Mann said. “They’re doing whatever they want to do, and they’re being unsafe.”

On Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the 50-person limit for gatherings will not be changing.

“No, there’s no opportunity in my mind right now,” she said. “We need to continue to hold the line that we’re holding, and that includes for any event, whether it’s in a banquet hall, whether it’s in a church, whether in a restaurant or a bar.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix agreed with the provincial health officer.

“The answer to the request is simply no, not because we don’t understand the value of banquet halls and services they provide,” he said, and added he understands weddings and other special gatherings are big events in people’s lives that are often planned years in advance. “It would be absolutely catastrophic, and the wrong way to start a life together, to be involved in an event that has spread COVID-19.”

The association said their facilities can’t operate unless they can host more people and they may have to close their doors.

The group also said it wasn’t aware of two event spaces the Surrey RCMP reported were fined over the weekend, or what the circumstances might have been.