adam skelly

Adamson BBQ owner Adam Skelly says he got himself arrested on purpose

It's been two weeks since Adamson Barbecue owner Adam Skelly was arrested and taken away in handcuffs from the Etobicoke location of his popular local restaurant chain — and two weeks since he's posted anything at all to Instagram.

For someone who was initially so conspicuous about his intentions to defy provincial lockdown orders by opening his restaurant for indoor dining, this seems a bit odd.

But there's a reason for Skelly's social media silence, as explained by the 33-year-old restaurateur himself in a newsletter email blast Thursday evening.

Addressed to "Adamson Barbecue fans," the email begins with some caveats ("my intention is not to diminish the effects that COVID may have had on you or your loved ones") and a call-out for customers to place pre-orders for BBQ "during this particularly challenging time."

"I'm writing you today to share my side of the story from the last few weeks," writes Skelly, noting that his actions were intended to "shine some light on the unjust laws, disproportionate restrictions on small business, and excessive force used against anyone who challenges the the authoritarian measures put in place by the provincial government."

Skelly goes on to explain that he had actually opened the restaurant on Tuesday, November 24, with the intentions of being charged under the Reopening Ontario Act and then challenging the government in court.

"I was well aware of the position I'd be putting myself in by taking this stand. Receiving hundreds of scorning emails, angry social media messages, threats against my family, harassment by the police, and having my name dragged through the mud by the media is not something I look forward to," he wrote.

"Our lawyers agree that the government actions have impacted small businesses disproportionately, and violate our charter rights. I am hopeful that we win this fight, and the sacrifice will be for the benefit of other small businesses across the province and country."

Skelly then stated his case with some powerful statistics and real-talk about the reality of running a small business during this unprecedented time.

"Despite having a strong take-out business, my restaurants will not survive extended lockdowns through the Spring (like thousands of others across the country who have already closed for good)," he wrote, nothing that sales are down over 60 per cent even with a successful pivot to delivery.

"Tens of thousands of small businesses in Canada have already closed permanently since March, and the CFIB estimates 200,000 more may fail by Spring. Canada now has the highest unemployment in the G7, and Canadians have raked up 400B in credit card debt (8X the highest annual spike in history)," Skelly continued.

"Overdose deaths, suicides and domestic violence are on the rise. These consequences of the lockdowns have been accepted by the general public in the name of 'safety' and 'science.'"

Under a sub-heading that reads "what 'science' are we trusting?," the email links to several controversial works such as a banned-from-YouTube video in which a doctor calls COVID-19 "the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on an unsuspecting public" and a blog post by Toronto real estate bigwig Brad Lamb.

One infographic, a sympathetic video portrait, and a brief retelling of his three-day-long reopening stint later, Skelly states the City of Toronto "unlawfully sent over 200 police" to his restaurant on Thursday, November 25, after Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa (who he pans as "an unelected doctor") had issued a closure order.

"In my opinion, this was an excessive use of force- and the people in attendance agreed. It certainly created tensions between the authorities and my customers," he wrote, failing to acknowledge the aggressive actions of anti-masker mobs who had flocked to the site.

"I made many promises (including to myself) not to back down- so I entered the building through the back unit and did what I had to do to open the restaurant. This got the police and bylaw to issue the charges under the 'Reopening Ontario Act' that I was after," continued Skelly.

"I also found out that the police were willing to throw people on the ground, push through crowds of people in an attempt to enter a building without a warrant, and arrest me like a criminal for exercising my right to earn a living."

Skelly reveals that after his arrest on Friday, November 26, he was brought to a police station and "detained for 30 hours" while a Crown Attorney for his bail hearing was being advised at the provincial level.

The conditions of his bail were set as follows: 

  • Skelly must comply with the re-opening Ontario Act and all orders made by any public officer moving forward
  • Skelly must stay 200m away from all three of his restaurants
  • Skelly must not "post or communicate on any internet social media platform"

The polarizing restaurateur appears confident that this emailed newsletter does not count as social media, though a judge may eventually disagree.

adam skelly

Skelly's bail conditions, as shared with customers through an email newsletter blast on Thursday, December 10. Image via Adamson Barbecue.

He certainly doesn't have much to worry about in terms of funding any legal expenses: A controversial GoFundMe campaign set up in support of Adamson Barbecue has now raised more than $330,000 — all of which Skelly says he will use "to defend my charges and challenge the constitutionality of the Reopening Ontario Act."

"I knew taking this stand will polarize my customers. This was not a business move. It this causes the accelerated failure of my business, I accept the consequence," said Kelly in his letter.

"I am hopeful that my customers will see my true intentions, continue to support the business and help us retain the few job opportunities we have left at the restaurants." 

"You may still believe that I am putting public health at risk by opening my doors, despite overwhelming evidence showing otherwise," he continues. "You may have unwavering trust in the authorities, despite their initial predictions being off by a factor of 10, repeated contradictions and blatant misrepresentation of data."

"That's OK, you are entitled to your beliefs. I will point you again to the unsubscribe button below... I promise I will continue to fight for our freedoms, for small businesses, and for a brighter future for our children. And make the best barbecue in the country while I'm at it." 

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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