Critics call out Canadian Tire over stacks of pricey masks while hospitals call for donations
VANCOUVER -- Two Vancouver dentists say they were dismayed to see boxes of masks and gloves for sale at high prices at a Canadian Tire store at a time when they’re in short supply at hospitals because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When push comes to shove, you have a resource that — clearly it’s a matter of life and death for people — and they’re selling it,” said Alex Rosenczweig, a dentist in Vancouver.
“It just seems so wrong, especially when the government has come out and said they’re trying to find these resources.”
Canadian Tire did not respond to email or telephone messages asking for comment for this story. The general manager of the Cambie Street store declined an interview, referring CTV News to the company’s corporate media line.
Farzan Ghannad sent CTV News Vancouver photos he took during a visit to the Canadian Tire on Friday afternoon, where he said he was shocked to see boxes of masks and gloves stacked high, and bins full of hand sanitizer.
“Our hospitals are lacking sufficient PPE supplies or are running low. The government has failed to secure adequate supplies, asking for donations from dental offices and other businesses,” Ghannad wrote on Facebook.
“But then you see Canadian Tire (Cambie and 7th) store selling simple exam masks that offer no level of proven protection, at insane prices ($50/box) to the general public for a huge profit. These should be given to the hospitals that need them, or sold at reasonable prices, $5-10 to the public.”
When Rosenczweig visited the same store earlier that week, he says, he saw 20-litre buckets of hand sanitizer on sale for $250, boxes and boxes of masks and gloves, N-95-grade respirator masks, and even disposable surgical gowns.
Rosenczweig said he was also taken aback at the prices, noting that he usually buys the same type of masks for $8 to $10 a box, not the $50 price Canadian Tire had listed. The surgical gowns were being sold for $10 each, but the normal price is $2, he said.
Both men had visited the store in search of plastic face shields for themselves or colleagues to use in their dental practices as PPE supplies become hard to find.
When Rosenczweig saw the enormous buckets of hand sanitizer for sale, he thought about how he’d helped the hospital his sister works at as an ER doctor connect with a local distillery, Resurrection Spirits, which has now switched from making alcohol to sanitizer.
While N-95 masks are the most effective at filtering airborne particles, Rosenczweig said the surgical masks on sale at the Canadian Tire store are more effective at filtering out airborne droplets than cloth masks, and are also in high demand for healthcare uses.
Illustrating how seriously government is taking the supply crunch, the B.C. government recently introduced measures to ban the resale of food, medical supplies and personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to customers on March 16 and a March 25 press release, the company’s CEO, Greg Hicks, said stores were stocking up on in-demand items like cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, and had limited the amount of sanitizer and toilet paper customers could buy at one time.
"Canadians have been turning to Canadian Tire for the essential products required to help navigate COVID-19. Canadian Tire store employees are on the frontline and we are extremely proud of the role they are playing in our communities as they continue to serve our customers and help them to safely obtain the products they need," Hicks said in the March 25 press release.
Canadian Tire is certainly not the only Metro Vancouver retailer advertising masks and other PPE for sale.
But Rosenczweig said he’d like to see the large national retailer contribute to the effort to properly stock hospitals, where lack of PPE could lead to doctors and nurses getting sick with COVID-19 — a scenario that’s already playing out in the United States.
“Be responsible in the community and contribute,” he said.