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Innisfail rec hockey teams threaten to boot COVID rules

Town of Innisfail on high alert to settle arena crisis but confidence is high there will be compliance
MVT Innisfail Arena COVID
The town has grappled with the six-team Innisfail Mens Rec League over provincially mandated COVID rules at the Innisfail Arena. However, the town is now "confident" each team will be in compliance with pandemic rules. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The town’s long battle to faithfully follow provincial COVID guidelines took disturbing high drama twists and turns last week following a threat by the Innisfail Men's Rec League to break a provincial ministerial law at the Innisfail Arena by not complying with pandemic restrictions.

Town council first heard of the hockey league intentions at its regular meeting on Nov. 8. Administration then told the league through emails it had to comply. But then a senior league spokesman told The Albertan each of the league’s six teams were responsible for themselves. By Nov. 10 the town announced they were “confident” everyone would follow the rules. However, a lingering measure of uncertainty still reigned, with the possibility any assurances to the town could unravel.

“This is up to the teams. This is their discussion. Whatever you guys decided for your team, so be it. Let the town know,” said Jeffry Mydland, a spokesman for the league who was dealing with the town last week. However, Mydland, who has been a league member since 2001, added he contacted all teams last week to get in touch with the town on how best to move forward.

“This is on the teams, not me,” said Mydland, who insisted COVID-19 has been “blown out of proportion".

“It’s taken people down but the flu takes people down,” said Mydland, whose COVID-related correspondence to the town included claims of human rights violations, as well as discrimination at town facilities. “I think it has been blown out of proportion since day one.”

Nevertheless, the Town of Innisfail is taking the pandemic seriously, as well as all the provincial government guidelines to combat it, and moved quickly following the Nov. 8 council meeting to ensure the league immediately follows all restrictions.

“I would hate to see the league shut down because of some people who don’t want to comply, so let’s do what we can to make sure the league continues and hopefully others will catch on or they won’t,” said mayor Jean Barclay.

On Nov. 10, Becker told The Albertan the town had a “really positive” response with league teams it was able to reach since the Nov. 8 council meeting when he presented a complete report of the rec league’s plan to ignore the public health order for the Arena.

“We are quite confident that we’ll achieve full compliance from the teams of the men's league. If not, we will have to re-evaluate how we are screening users within our facilities,” said Becker, adding the next potential step for the town would have users screened by staff at the entrance doors of the Arena.

He also said there also has to be some “notification” there is some level of compliance from the hockey league, whether it’s verbal or by email. Becker said that is being left for staff to handle.

“We’ve never been heavy-handed. We’ve been working with the user groups. Nobody likes that we have to apply these restrictions,” said Becker. “It’s a mandatory requirement. It is a public safety and staff safety obligation as part of COVID. It is what it is.”

Last month, 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.

With files from Lea Smaldon


Johnnie Bachusky

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