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Hammer laid down on Innisfail rec league for COVID non-compliance

Town orders men's rec hockey league must comply by Nov. 25 or play could be effectively cancelled
MVT Jeffry Mydland rec hockey
Jeffry Mydland of the Innisfail Mens Rec League gives a presentation to town council on Nov. 15 opposing the town's accepted provincially-mandated COVID management strategy, which includes the proof of vaccination requirement at town-owned recreational facilities. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The Innisfail Men's Rec League is now set to get the boot from playing any further hockey at the Innisfail Arena unless they provide proof at their next game this week that every player and team official is either vaccinated, has a medical exemption or received a negative rapid test.

The town laid down the law to the hockey league this week.

“I am happy that this is finally going to be actually enforced now,” said Kent Wing, a player for the rec league’s Platinum Fitness Flyers, a team already fully complying with the town's direction to follow provincially-mandated COVID guidelines. He added proof-of-vaccination is also already enforced at arena doors in Red Deer.

“It’s not human rights. It is what it is. Just follow the rules. Play some hockey and have some fun and get some exercise," said Wing.

Todd Becker, the municipality’s chief administrative officer, said town staff gave notice on Nov. 22 to Jeffry Mydland, the contact person for the men's rec league, that as of Nov. 25 they will be required to show documentation of all players and officials to town staff on duty when they show up at the Innnisfail Arena door to use the facility.

“As of Thursday, no player of official will be allowed in the building without proof of vaccination, medical exemption letter or (proof) of paid rapid testing in the previous 72 hours,” said Becker, who gave a brief overview of the increasingly testy battle with the rec hockey league during town council’s regular meeting on Nov. 22.

“We’re having difficulty achieving compliance with what is requested of the men's league,” Becker told council. “There is a likelihood of enhancing our enforcement or our screening of the users of that program.”

The town’s challenges with the men's rec league have been escalating for a good chunk of the past month, although at one point Becker believed there would be full compliance. He said staff have asked the teams “multiple times” to make arrangements to show vaccination documents of all players to arena staff operators on duty but there has been “very little” compliance.

“Due to the large cooperation of the other users the likely next step would be to cancel the bookings of the men's rec hockey league,” said Becker, adding town staff have received overwhelming and positive cooperation from other arena user groups, including minor hockey, figure skating and the Innisfail Eagles.

Mydland said he did not know whether the town’s new tough stance to get renegade teams and players to comply will be a problem for any of the teams.

“It could. I have no idea. It’s not up to me to know their medical status,” said Mydland, who is a player in the league. He would not comment on whether he is vaccinated.

“It’s none of your business. Maybe the response should be that I don’t consent to give you that information because that is what this is all about,” said Mydland, conceding there could be some players who may not want to test the town’s resolve. “That town has put it out there, sure. So, maybe some people don’t play anymore.”

Meanwhile, mayor Jean Barclay supported the efforts of Becker and administration on the way they are handling the testy COVID-related problem at the arena.

“These are ministerial orders that have been put in place by the province. The Town of Innisfail as an organization needs to comply,” said Barclay. “It’s unfortunate we got to this. The town has tried to take a balanced approach. We haven’t been heavy-handed at all in this. We have tried to be as fair as we can but unfortunately, there are a couple of teams or people on a couple of teams that seem to not want to comply despite the dialogue that has gone on between the town and these teams. We will see where things go from here.”

In October, the town rolled out Restrictions Exemption Programs (REP) for each adult user group at the arena, which includes the Innisfail Men's Rec League. The town is relying on simple trust that users will meet compliance.

The provincial REP allows indoor recreation facilities to operate without most public health restrictions although masks are still mandatory. All patrons aged 12 and older must provide valid proof of vaccination or proof of a negative rapid test within the last 72 hours, or documentation of a medical exemption.

In recreation facilities where the REP is not enacted, adult (18 and older) indoor group classes and activities are not permitted and adult competitions are paused except where vaccine exemptions have been granted. Capacity is limited to one-third of the facility’s fire code and attendees must be with household members only or two close contacts if they live alone.

Youth sports (under 18) are permitted in facilities that have not enacted the REP as long as participants screen for symptoms, maintain two-metre distancing and wear masks except while engaged in physical activity.