OTTAWA -- The City of Ottawa is calling on the Ontario government to treat small businesses the same as big box stores during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Council approved a motion from Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Theresa Kavanagh to ask the province to allow small businesses to open under the same restrictions applied to big box stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Ontario's stay-at-home orders, discount and big box retailers are allowed to open if they sell groceries to the public and limit the number of persons occupying any room that is open to the public to 25 per cent capacity of the particular room.

Other businesses are allowed to open for curbside pick-up and delivery only.

Mayor Jim Watson says big box stores like Walmart and Costco can access a "loophole"

"These big box stores have the ability to sell groceries, and in essence they're getting through a loophole an opportunity to sell everything from sporting goods equipment to flat screen TVs and so on, in-person shopping," said Watson during an interview on CTV News at Five with Patricia Boal.

"Whereas, someone who owns a stereo shop or owns a small business that sells sporting equipment, they're not allowed to open. They can only do curbside pickup."

Watson notes Quebec and Manitoba directed big box stores to block off non-essential items to prevent sales during COVID-19 restrictions.

Watson says he will write to Premier Doug Ford to ask that if the Ontario government is allowing 25 per cent capacity in big box stores, allow small businesses to do the same to "level the playing field."

The motion says that if the province will not change the rules to allow small businesses to operate under the same regulations as big box stories, the Ontario government should restrict big box and discount stores to in-person sales of grocery and essential items only.

Ministry of Labour inspectors issued 24 tickets to Ottawa businesses during a COVID-19 safety blitz last weekend targeting big box stores.

The most common infractions were for inadequate screening, exceeding capacity limits, and lacking a COVID-19 safety plan.

Ottawa Bylaw officers also issued 10 tickets during the blitz, including nine for mask violations under Ottawa's Temporary Mandatory Mask Bylaw.