TORONTO -- At least a hundred underground barbershops have opened since storefront salons were ordered closed under a public health order, salon owners say, questioning whether continuing to keep their businesses closed is any safer for the public than the unregulated operations that appear to be replacing them.

CTV News Toronto examined dozens of online advertisements, including ones in Toronto or Peel Region that invite customers to “skip waiting on barbershops to open,” or others that claim to have “private studios” or promise to bring their “mobile salon” directly to a customer. Another invites a customer to “text me for a fresh cut.”

Salon advertisements

All of these appear to breach Ontario’s public health orders, which require salons to close in grey regions under the province’s colour-coded framework.

“It’s unsafe,” said Peter Gosling, who owns Glassbox Barbers, which has locations in Toronto, Hamilton and Victoria, B.C. His Toronto outlets are closed, he said.

“We might as well open our doors because people have already been pushed underground. I know stylists and barbers doing thirty to forty to fifty haircuts a week between people’s condos, kitchens, backyards, garages, whatever it is,” he said.

CTV News Toronto reached out to several people advertising and one, named Drew, explained that he gets a handful of customers a week — just enough to get some money for him and his young son.

“I’m a single father. I have to do what I can to make ends meet,” said Drew, who added that he has been unable to receive federal government benefits and has also been relying on the support of his family.

He claimed he sterilizes between clients, wears a mask, and does his best to follow other public health rules.

“I assumed that it was fine because all these other people are already doing this. I’m not the only one — I started way later. By the time I posted, there were already hundreds ahead of me,” Drew said Sunday.

Anyone opening despite public health orders takes a major risk. When Chrome Artistic Barbershop opened in St. Catherine’s, claiming to have found a loophole that allowed it to operate as a film studio, the Niagra Public Health Unit shut it down. It remains closed even as the region has been moved into the red zone, which allows salons to open.

Toronto and Peel remain in the grey zone, where salons are ordered to be closed, while salons are allowed to operate in the rest of the GTA as they are in the red zone.

Carlos Bonifaz, one of the co-owners of Brazykuts Barbershop on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto, said after four months of lockdown, he has been dipping into his savings and trying to keep the lights on.

Carlos Bonifaz

He said some of the barbers he’s been noticing operating underground are existing stylists — but others are simply people who think they can make a quick $15 with an electric razor.

“I have found over the last couple months at least a hundred new barbers cutting hair. Everybody wants to be a barber now,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day, there needs to be a change. We have the sanitation. We have the right system in place. It’s a struggle for us,” Bonifaz said.

Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Vinita Dubey, wrote in a statement to CTV News that the Reopening Ontario Act contains fines for individuals and businesses that are not in compliance with the law.

Earlier this week, Toronto Public Health mused about allowing outdoor haircuts, which appears to still be a possibility, according to the statement.

“As spring is approaching and the weather is getting warmer, people are able to spend more time outdoors for prolonged periods. We know the risk of transmission of the virus is lower outdoors than indoors. Individuals can physically distance more easily and there is greater airflow, which can help to minimize further virus spread…we will continue to provide input and analysis of our local situation to the province moving forward,” the statement reads.