OLDS — Town council plans to ask provincial health officials for more clarity on what the rules are for the COVID-19 Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) in town facilities.
Council made that decision during its Oct. 4 policies and priorities meeting, noting town officials have received many complaints from residents, including allegations that it’s discriminatory.
Under the REP, which came into effect Sept. 20, Albertans are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter many businesses, facilities and venues.
Coun. Mary Anne Overwater made the motion.
"We need more clarity and it should be consistent across the province,” Overwater said, adding that copies of that communication should also be sent to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association so that other communities in the Olds region and across the province obtain it.
The matter arose when Town of Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka said he and chief administrative officer Michael Merritt have received many complaints about concerns such as “discrimination” since the program has been implemented in town facilities such as the Sportsplex.
Muzychka said as a result of those complaints, he, deputy mayor Mary Jane Harper and Coun. Wanda Blatz held a meeting with a provincial health representative on Oct. 1 to raise those issues and learn what exactly the policies and rules are.
Muzychka said a letter was written outlining the town’s concerns, including the workload it imposed on town employees. He said that in turn prompted the meeting.
“My concern was – and I’m not going to name municipalities, but a few of these municipalities (that) had AJHL hockey teams and so forth who were – to the best of our knowledge – required to have the REP program in place,” he said.
Muzychka said according to the health official, individual users of town facilities can choose to operate under REP rules if they wish, even if the town decides not to, as long as those groups are sectioned off, have a separate entrance into their area and make sure that patrons/participants have vaccine passports that are checked.
Thus, he suggested the Town of Olds “get rid” of the REP in the Sportsplex and allow users such as the Grizzlys to operate under it if they wish.
“This would eliminate the perceived discrimination of the Town of Olds – although it’s not the Town of Olds’ decision, it’s the province of Alberta that’s done this to us,” he said.
“We’re in between a rock and a hard place either way we go, but I think it may alleviate some of the problems that we’re having, with some people feeling that they’re being discriminated against.”
But if the Town of Olds drops the REP, that could create complications, some councillors warned.
For example, Coun. Wanda Blatz said according to the provincial health representative, if groups wanted to institute the REP during their own events at the Sportsplex, they’d have to have their own separate entrance and washroom facilities.
However, she said, the Sportsplex only has one set of washroom facilities, so that would prevent other groups from using it.
Concern was expressed that the decision could affect all adult users of the Sportsplex, including so-called “beer leagues.”
“I don’t think that we need to start deviating from this program until we have actually all the facts in front of us and the determination,” Blatz said.
Overwater agreed with that statement.
Harper also called it confusing. She described the program as “full of lawyer-ese” and said it’s her understanding that if the Sportsplex was no longer under the REP then its concession “would have to be shut down, period, period” and that could create more confusion and frustration.
Coun. Heather Ryan suggested getting input from all the user groups who might be impacted by a decision on this issue.
Acting community services director Michelle LaRoche agreed that some 15 to 20 user groups have individual contracts with the Town of Olds.
“I think we need to be definite in what we decide to do and make sure that we have communicated well with everyone,” Blatz said.
“None of us like this situation; not one of us. But the fact remains is this is the reality that (the provincial government) has downloaded on to all municipalities.”