Eganville – The introduction of the new COVID-19 mandatory vaccine mandate did not go in smoothly at the Eganville Arena with staff resorting to calling the Ontario Provincial Police to intervene, and concerns continue about the policy prohibiting children from being active.
“This policy goes exactly against that, where I want to see -- and I assume all my colleagues agree -- where we want to see more stuff going on at the arena. We want to see more kids out and active and doing different hobbies and this really limits us with some of these kids,” Bonnechere Mayor Jennifer Murphy said last Tuesday at Bonnechere Valley council.
Users of the arena, as well as volunteers and coaches, must show proof of vaccination, council was told. This did not go over well at first with some families and police were called in early on.
“They were called mostly to educate to say this is being passed down by the province and it was just information,” Kevin McGrath, recreation manager for Bonnechere Valley, told council.
“I think that is a very important message, that this is not a protocol that we put in place,” Mayor Murphy replied. “When you say it is the RCDHU it changes quite a bit.”
In his report, Mr. McGrath said OPP were called “to deal with parents not complying to the regulation and protocols.”
The health unit has been changing the date several times on vaccine information being mandatory and extending the deadline, he added.
“As of November 30th, the Renfrew County Health Unit states it is mandatory for people over 12 years old to be vaccinated,” he said.
Councillor Jack Roesner asked what impact this is having on people who participate in activities at the arena.
“I think there is going to be some impact,” Mr. McGrath said. “To what degree it is hard to say.”
Councillor Tim Schison said there is an impact because the OPP were to deal with issues.
“Right at the beginning when it was first mandated to show vaccinations coming at the door we had a few situations,” Mr. McGrath said. “So, we did all we could do.”
Calling the OPP was to have another voice to explain the regulations, he said.
Coun. Roesner said he would like Mr. McGrath to compile information to give council a feeling on the impact of the vaccine mandate.
“I know I’ve received calls from people who are not happy, who are pulling their kids out (of sports at the arena),” he said. “Some are going to the effect of ‘why should we pay taxes for an arena we can’t use?’.”
Knowing how many people are using the arena now and how many in the future would help, he said.
“The best way would be to ask minor hockey what their registration was and where we are today,” Mr. McGrath said. “That would give us an idea.”
Councillor Brent Patrick said the deadline of November 30 is for coaches and volunteers. He questioned how teams would be impacted.
“Maybe there won’t be a coach for them or not,” he said.
There are kids who have been out of sprots for some time now, he added.
“Obviously it is something we have limited control over. Just because it is passed down to us we have to administer it because we provide the service,” he said. “We don’t want kids to be impacted.
“I want to make sure our outdoor rink is going to be amazing if they can’t play hockey,” he added.
Coun. Schison said he did not like to see the segregation taking place because of vaccination status.
“With kids and the families having to chose between this vaccination or enjoying, you know, something they have done for ever,” he said. “There’s been cases coming up where there have been young people taking the vaccine and they have had very bad side effects.
“I don’t want to be a part of any council that has to push this stuff on our kids,” he said.
Vaccination information has changed, he pointed out. AstraZeneca was first seen as the best vaccine and it was pulled. Now Moderna is being pulled for people under 30 in many countries.
“I still believe we should be in a pro-freedom society,” he said.
Children should not be experimented on, Coun. Schison said.
Mayor Murphy said she is being asked for more youth programs and there is the idea of using the Eagles Nest.
“Is there a gymnastics instructor? Is there ballet?” she said. “If there is anything we can do to get these kids off the couch and into a healthy way of living? And I would include myself in that.”
However, the vaccination policy may mean not all kids can participate, she said.
Coun. Schison said if the vaccination did stop infection or contagion he would feel differently. However, people who are vaccinated can still catch COVID and pass it on, he said.
“Until someone can show me the positives of public safety by having it rather than just trying to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed, they are going to have to do a little better job of showing me that,” he said.
There are people who are sick even though they are vaccinated and others have had adverse reactions to the vaccine.
“I’m not going to shove this to our kids,” he said. “I’m sorry, I’m not going to take any part of it.”
Mayor Murphy said it has been almost two years and people are frustrated.
“We do need our physical and mental health to get better, especially for the kids, and we are in this situation,” she said.
There needs to be programing for kids in the community, she stressed.
Coun. Patrick pointed out volunteers are hard to find and this policy may impact volunteers. He said having outdoor activities for children will be crucial.
Councillor Merv Buckwald asked if the policy applies to minor hockey or just the upper-level hockey. He was told it was all levels of hockey.
Coun. Patrick asked if someone rents the ice surface, do they have to show the children are vaccinated.
“Yes, if they are over the age of 12,” Mr. McGrath said. “They will be required to show vaccination.”
“Even in a private rental?” asked Coun. Patrick.
“Yes, if they are coming into our facility,” replied Mr. McGrath.
In his report to council, he noted there has been good attendance at Junior B hockey games so far this year. There were 106 people at the opening game and now there are between 80 and 90 at each game.
“Going back to masking, there are a lot of people coming through that door and they have a lot in their hands and it has gone seamless,” he said. “It is a learning curve for everybody but it has worked.
“We may get some pushback but there is good too,” he said.
Public skating is starting on November 7, he said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader