The owners of a West Kelowna, B.C. gym say they will continue to defy a closure order for breaking provincial COVID-19 mandates despite receiving thousands of dollars in fines in the last two months.
In an online video posted Feb. 12, Iron Energy Gym co-owner Brett Godin said he’s refusing to pay over $10,000 in fines that have been issued by Interior Health since December for non-compliance with current public health orders, like masking and requiring proof of vaccination.
Godin added that he’s sent the ticket slips to the company’s lawyer, and he expects to win any forthcoming legal battle over refusing to comply with B.C.’s COVID-19 policies.
“We stand firm on this—we are not paying these tickets,” Godin said. “Iron Energy does not discriminate. We are pro-choice. It is not our obligation or duty to sit here and ask for your medical clearance.”
The gym has stated numerous times that it will not require gym patrons to wear a mask or provide their vaccination status in order to use the gym. The gym is spearheading an initiative it calls ‘Operation Greenlight,’ which encourages businesses in B.C. and Canada to open without any restrictions to pressure the government to remove COVID-19 regulations.
In a Feb. 4 post on the gym’s Instagram account, co-owner Brian Mark was recorded taking down a four-page closure order taped to the gym’s doors for non-compliance with public health orders. Mark said Interior Health came in the middle of the night to issue the order when no staff were present.
In an email to The Epoch Times, Mark said he’s resisting health orders because he has yet to see data that supports the ongoing measures.
“We’re standing up for what we believe is right because we know that the masks are proven ineffective and it’s completely wrong to ask people for their medical data. Our stance is: Staying wide open, nothing you can do to shut us down, show us evidence, we’re not going anywhere,” he said.
“We’ve been resisting, standing up, and nothing has happened,” he added. “Just idle threats, and tickets that we’re disputing or willing to pay, depending on how the dispute goes.”
He says he and other B.C. gym owners have repeatedly called on provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to provide the data to justify fitness centre closures during the pandemic, and argues that his industry has been unfairly targeted.
Interior Health Responds
A spokesperson for Interior Health, one of the five publicly-funded regional health authorities in B.C., confirmed in an email that staff members did issue the closure order to Iron Energy on Feb. 3 for non-compliance with current public health orders.
At that time, Interior Health says it was seeing the highest COVID-19 activity and hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
“It is important for everyone to continue taking steps to protect themselves and their community by following current public health guidance,” the spokesperson said. “We also want to recognize the vast majority of gyms and fitness facilities that continue to follow these precautions.”
When COVID-19 cases were spiking in December during the Omicron variant outbreak, the B.C. government ordered fitness centres and gyms to shut down. In January, they were allowed to reopen at half capacity with increased safety protocols, including proof of vaccination and masking at all times.
On Feb. 15, the B.C. government announced that some COVID-19 restrictions would be eased as of Feb. 16 at 11:59 p.m., including for fitness centres that will be allowed to return operating at full capacity, but with continued proof of vaccination and masking.
While Iron Energy still faces the closure order from Interior Health, the company still has the business licence it regained from the City of West Kelowna on Jan. 20.
“The status of the fitness centre’s 2022 business licence renewal remains unchanged,” the City of West Kelowna staff said in an email.
In the Iron Energy closure order, Interior Health says it provided the City of West Kelowna with a letter on Jan. 20, indicating that the gym was able to open under provincial public health effective immediately. West Kelowna said it had issued the 2022 business licence renewal upon receipt of the letter.
The renewal of its City of West Kelowna 2022 business licence remained under review previously until the fitness centre was in compliance with the provincial public health order or until the order was removed by the province.
“We continue to work with Interior Health and seek direction from them in respect of provincial Public Health Orders; and, as these matters remain within their jurisdiction, questions should be directed to them,” the city spokesperson said.
In January, Mark told Castanet News that both owners are vaccinated and had previously asked gym patrons to follow provincial health orders, including masking and social distancing, but decided to speak out once new restrictions came into force on Dec. 22.
Iron Energy’s stance comes as thousands of Canadians protest COVID-19 policies in Ottawa, and across the country in solidarity with the “Freedom Convoy.” The trucker convoy arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 29 where it has remained ever since. Organizers have said they will remain in the nation’s capital until all federal COVID-19 mandates and restrictions are lifted.
Mark says he will continue to keep the gym’s doors open to protect the rights of its 1,350 members and their mental health.
He said the B.C. vaccine card violates the Canadian constitution and Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”