Earlier this summer, the Ottawa music community was hit with some very disappointing news. Word spread quickly that one of the city’s best underground gathering spots, Mugshots, was closing down. Having been patrons of Mugshots for years, and presenting shows there since November of 2014, we at Showbox were devastated. Not only because we would no longer be able to see and present cool shows there anymore – it had become a place that we all came to love, and where new and old friends gathered. It was kind of like watching your childhood home burn to the ground.
Since the closure, many questions have arisen about what happened and how the staff were affected. It doesn’t take a lawyer to figure out that something fishy happened, and that the employees of Mugshots were dealt an unfair hand. Not only did the Hostelling International-Ottawa management rip the tablecloth out from under the community by closing the doors on the bar – it also illegally ended the jobs of all the employees that worked there, the ones that poured their heart and souls into making that place as special as it was. Here is an excerpt from a Facebook post I wrote when I heard the bad news:
The sudden closure of Mugshots has come as a devastating surprise to some of us, particularly those who put their heart and souls into making it one of the greatest hidden gems in Ottawa. The only way to express the feeling we have right now is by comparing to a knife through the heart. It feels as though something has been taken from us, something that was built by the community and something that was a hub for the community. Showbox, Fryquency, Wednesday Open Mics (the best in town), and all the rest of us who put on regular shows at Mugshots are gutted by this decision.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being home, and I know that calling a bar “home” might seem a little over dramatic (or perhaps just plain sad). But we can all relate with the emotion of feeling safe and part of a space – whether it’s your childhood home, your old classroom, your parent’s basement, your old park hangout…. Mugshots was our hangout. It was our place. The walls were stone cold, but they felt warm to me. Not many people can say that about a jail. – Matias
It is very important to us that the former Mugshots staff are heard, and that their battle to receive just compensation and recognition for their unfair dismissal is understood clearly. Moreover, there is a fundraising event happening this weekend at Happy Goat Coffee Co. as well as an indigogo campaign set up to raise money for legal fees.
I spoke with former Mugshots employee Tyler Goodman about the whole experience and what is happening now.
July 11th my colleagues and I received an email from the General Manager of the hostel that the bar would be closing to the public effective immediately. All weekend shifts and events scheduled well into September were all cancelled. The email did not explain why this was happening or when we could expect to resume our jobs. The GM had also placed padlocks on the doors of the outdoor bar and the beer fridge. A few days later, after news of the bar’s closure had spread through Facebook, the GM called an emergency meeting. HI Ottawa was getting lots of backlash from the public and he wanted to explain why Mugshots was closed, or at least that was his intention. What really happened at this meeting is that one of our co-workers was fired in front of us in a humiliating fashion. Some of us left the meeting to go and console this person. In the management’s eyes, this amounted to us handing in our notice. No severance, no compensation for shifts lost. The end.
Mugshots was a cornerstone of the music community, and an incredibly unique venue. This is known. But more selfishly, it was my home. I worked and cried and bled and made tacos (never at the same time) for three years. It was my drinking hole, it was my job, it was my entire social circle. While I can only speak for myself, I suspect anyone else who worked there will tell you the same.
We were fortunate enough to come into contact with Workers Action Group, an organization that deals with non-unionized workers. They put us in touch with lawyers and put up the money so the lawyers could assess our case. The law firm also specializes in labour cases and is very confidant that we have a case. They are currently in contact with HI.
Outside of our severance and a change to our ROE forms (currently it says we quit, meaning we could not apply for EI), we are hoping that our legal case will inspire a change in the culture at HI. As it stands right now, workers there are not informed of their rights, there is minimal health and safety training, and there is no sense of who does what in the organization. In my three years there I was never able to find out who the HR person was. This is a global not-for-profit! More broadly, we are hoping that this case will inspire others who feel they are being exploited in their workplaces. There are good people, like those in the Workers Action Group, who will help you out. You may feel as if there is no recourse, but there often is.
A big part of the event is the actual raising of funds – the firm representing us is called Avante Law, and they are really great. But like any firm, they have fees. To be honest, we were thinking of throwing something like this before the thought of hiring a lawyer ever entered our minds. We never got to say goodbye to our bar! And when I say “our” I mean that with a capital “O”. Mugshots was the place it was because of the people who worked there, because of the people who threw events there, because of the people who drank/danced/puked/peed/loved there. Happy Goat had been kind enough to offer up their amazing space so we can make our peace with it’s closure and maybe dance/drink/love.
We’re bringing back some classics from Mugshots for the fundraising event – Total T’s Taco Tuesday (yours truly), Ceremony, Freak Show, and a few DJs too. We hope to see a lot of people come out and support!
If you’d like to help us, there are a few things you can do. We have an indiegogo campaign to support the Mugnots legal campaign. You can also join us on September 12th at the Mugnots Fundraising event, see friends, share memories, and enjoy some beer lovingly donated to us by Kitchissippi and Bicycle Brewery. And you can put the pressure on Hostelling International! Hit up the HI Ottawa and HI Canada Facebook pages and let them know it’s not okay to exploit workers. Let them know you are upset that a real special thing was put down for no good reason. Let them know it’s time for new and responsible management.
The Mugnots Fundraising event takes place Saturday, September 12 at Happy Goat Coffee Co. (35 Laurel St., Ottawa). Doors are at 8PM. If you are not able to attend the event, please consider donating to the campaign through their indigogo page.