BOWDEN — Alberta Health Services (AHS) officials are threatening legal action after a two-day rodeo and protest against COVID-19 restrictions was held just south of Bowden during the weekend.
Premier Jason Kenney slammed the decision to hold it as well.
The No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally was held May 1 and 2 on private land on Twp. Rd. 341 just off Highway 2A. It attracted thousands of people from across the province.
The rodeo began at about 1:15 p.m. Saturday. At 1:45 p.m. that day people were still streaming in.
“AHS is considering our legal options in regards to the organizers of this event,” an AHS release said.
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People of all ages attended the event, from the elderly to young children. The RCMP were also there for a while.
“The reason we are at this critical stage of the pandemic in Alberta, with record-high daily case counts and intensive-care numbers, is precisely because too many Albertans are ignoring the rules we currently have in place,” Kenney said on Twitter and Facebook.
“If we do not begin to bend the curve, our health-care system could very well be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.”
Leading up to the event, organizers had planned to hold it on the Bowden Agricultural Society grounds, but permission to do so was withheld after discussions were held with AHS. A spokesman for the society could not be reached by press time.
Melissa Ballantyne, manager of AHS Central Zone Communications and Community Engagement, said AHS was aware of the event. She said holding it on the land south of Bowden did not absolve organizers of their responsibility to follow restrictions.
“Holding an event on private property still does not make it legal,” Ballantyne, said during an interview.
“Events are not allowed, competitions aren’t allowed, gatherings outdoors with more than 10 people not allowed, so they’d still have to get an exemption."
Ballantyne issued a statement on the matter on behalf of AHS.
“Prior to the event, AHS inspectors spoke with - and provided written information to - the organizers of the event, notifying them that current CMOH orders prohibit businesses or entities from offering or providing exhibitions, sporting events, or sporting and performance competitions at this time,” it said.
“In addition, AHS Legal sent a letter to the organizers indicating that the event would be illegal if it were to proceed.
“It is disappointing that the organizers ignored this information and went ahead with their event, knowing it was a clear breach of the current public health restrictions.
“In addition, it is extremely concerning that people would knowingly put their fellow Albertans at risk by ignoring the restrictions, particularly with increasing cases and the subsequent pressure on our healthcare system."
The event took on a kind of festive atmosphere, with food being served and various booths set up near the entrance, including one for the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta.
As the rodeo began, an announcer gave a statement.
“We do not have the right to deem some businesses as essential and other businesses non (essential) because the someone, some family and some individual in your community, all businesses are essential,” he said, sparking cheers.
“This afternoon we celebrate the people who make all of this possible today and throughout history: our sponsors, our volunteers, our cowboys, our (staff) and all of those who stand up for our rights and freedoms.
“Rodeo events are not possible without the support of our local businesses and local businesses are the backbone of the rodeo world and we thank you.”
Tracy Tavs, who came from Lethbridge, as well as Grace Edmondson and Tom Tows, both of Delburne, were at the Bowden Agricultural Society grounds on Friday afternoon waiting for word on where the new location for the rally would be.
Tavs was sympathetic to the purpose of the No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally.
“You don’t want to know. The government does not want to know. I think it was all a scam,” said Tavs.
Along with Edmondson, Tavs also said she just wanted to have some fun.
“We are here to support the rodeo,” said Edmondson.
Bowden mayor Robb Stuart was relieved the rodeo rally didn’t end up occurring in his community.
“We’ve had some concerned citizens coming in asking about it and I think it’s probably (for) the best that it didn’t go ahead (in Bowden) for the safety of our community,” he said noting he was worried about the fact that thousands were expected to attend.
However, Stuart said it could have a positive effect on the town’s economy.
“If it’s in our general area, I presume there’ll be a little bit of people coming into town, to the liquor store, the convenience stores that we have now,” he said.
— With files from Johnnie Bachusky