A Campbell River woman has been found guilty of assault and causing a disturbance after an incident in which she deliberately coughed on employees in the city’s Save-On Foods grocery store during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, screamed and yelled profanely about the “fake” pandemic and rammed one of the employees with a grocery cart.
The charges arose out of an incident on April 24, 2020, a time in which early COVID-19 public health measures had been instituted, such as cordoning off the store’s check-out area in order to prevent congestion and people coming within six feet of each other. On that day, Kimberly Brenda Woolman entered the store and confronted an employee about why the areas had been cordoned off, Judge Barbara Flewelling says in her written reasons for judgement.
The employee explained the store policy and the requirement to comply with public health orders.
“Ms. Woolman told her COVID was not real and that it was stupid,” Judge Flewelling says. “When asked if she would obey the social distancing rules, Ms. Woolman replied ‘no.’”
Woolman was then told to leave the store but Woolman only repeated that COVID was not real and walked away from the entrance and exit area. The employee followed at the required six-foot distance, repeatedly asked Woolman to leave if she wouldn’t follow the guidelines. Throughout this period, Woolman screamed at the employee that COVID was not real and it was fake.
Woolman at one point, stopped abruptly, causing the employee to stop about three feet away from her. Woolman then turned and faced the employee, leaned towards her and “forcibly coughed” in the direction of the employee’s face, the judge says.
Woolman was repeatedly asked to leave the store immediately which she refused to do. The pair made their way down the aisle towards the back of the store, all the while Woolman continued to yell that COVID was not real. Other employees attended the situation, eventually involving five. They attempted to de-escalate the situation by directing Woolman out of the store, encircling her and moving forward so she would leave.
All the while, the original employee testified that Woolman “continued to scream and yell at the top of her lungs,” the judge says.
One employee testified that Woolman’s yelling was getting louder with lots of swearing.
“She was yelling that ‘COVID was not fucking real,’ ‘just a flu’ and they were all ‘fucking stupid,’” Judge Flewelling says. “According to (the witness) she ‘kept screaming it over and over.’”
A fifth employee arrived at the scene to help the others. Woolman had merchandise in the cart which she had not paid for so the fifth employee took hold of the front of the cart to prevent Woolman from leaving. Woolman tried to wrestle the cart out of the employee’s hands and pushed it directly into him. Woolman claimed she needed the cart to help her walk to her vehicle. The employee retrieved an empty cart to help her get to her vehicle.
The original employee who testififed that Woolman coughed on her was shaken and concerned about infection. She reported the incident and, following advice, went home, cleaned her clothes and showered and monitored herself for any symptoms. She returned to work the next day.
All this was going on in a busy store.
“At the time of these events, the store was following the social distancing orders,” the judge says. “(Another employee) described that people were panic buying and the checkouts were very busy.”
The judge says in her reasons for judgement that she was satisfied that coughing on the employee constituted assault as did pushing the cart into another employee. She also ruled that Woolman’s behaviour constituted a disturbance to store employees and customers
Judge Flewelling delivered her guilty verdict on all three counts on April 13. Woolman was to appear in Campbell River Provincial Court April 25 to set a date for sentencing.