Orleans gym owner vows to fight fines for keeping studio open
Published Wednesday, October 28, 2020 10:34AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, October 28, 2020 10:36AM EDT
OTTAWA -- The owner of a fitness studio in Orléans says he is contesting hundreds of dollars in fines he's received for keeping his private fitness studio open during modified Stage 2 restrictions, which forced all gyms to close.
The provincial restrictions have been in place in Ottawa since Oct. 10, but Zach Boissinot, owner of A Foot Above Fitness on Trim Road, says he believes the physical and mental health benefits of staying open far outweigh the risk of spreading COVID-19.
"I believe that people's mental health is more important than the damage we're doing with these lockdowns," he told CTV Morning Live on Wednesday.
Boissinot says he was fined by city bylaw officers last week and one of his trainers was given a ticket for not wearing a mask.
"They kind of just showed up and said, quite frankly, 'You're not exempt. Here's a fine.'" Boissinot said.
Ottawa By-Law and Regulatory Services told CTV News that the operator of the gym at 1290 Trim Rd. was fined $880 on Oct. 20 for operating a non-essential business. The operator was also fined $490 for failing to post required signage at every public entrance and was issued another $490 for failing to have hand sanitizer at all entrances.
A fine of $240 for failing to wear a mask while entering or remaining in an enclosed public space was also handed out to one person at the gym.
"I plan to contest all of those. I've already started the process," Boissinot said.
He says it's not about the money.
"It can't be about finances anymore. People's mental health needs to be more important than some dollar figure. This has become larger than whatever amount of money is in my bank," he said.
Boissinot claims his studio is unlike larger gyms. He keeps the doors locked and only lets in specific clients. There are no walk-ins and he says there has never been more than 10 people in the business at any one time during the lockdown. Clients with symptoms of COVID-19 are told to stay away.
While he acknowledges that he is in defiance of the law, he says his clients are appreciative.
"I've felt a lot of pressure from both sides," he said. "I've had a lot of people thank me profusely for keeping their mental health going, same as I've had a lot of people telling me I'm part of the problem, and I'm spreading everything and I'm killing people and yada, yada, yada."
He says he wants to see more data from the government to suggest gyms and fitness studios are contributors to the spread of COVID-19.
"I think the lack of modelling and data that has been put forward from the government is a little bit disconcerting and so I'd like to see a little bit more proof as to why gyms are more deadly than they're worth to have open," he said.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said cases like this are a sign that businesses are struggling.
"This reflects how challenging it is for business right now, especially gyms, restaurants and bars," she said. "What we want to do is continue the dialog with the province about what's needed past the 28 days, what are the measures that can reduce the risk of COVID transmission while keeping as many businesses open as possible. If certain activities need to continue, how do we do it in the safest way possible?"
While she did not comment specifically on A Foot Above Fitness, Dr. Etches encouraged business owners to talk with Ottawa Public Health about ways to keep their businesses in operation safely.
Gyms increasingly citing mental health as reason to stay open
The argument that physical fitness contributes to overall mental health is not new, and Boissinot is one of many gym owners and gym users who are calling on the government to reopen fitness studios for the mental health of their clients on top of the physical health benefits.
GoodLife Fitness, Canada's largest chain of gyms, is urging members to contact their government representatives and demand the closures be reversed.
"As we all know, the fitness industry in Ontario is currently facing serious challenges as a result of the global pandemic. Between mandated shutdowns, capacity restrictions, and ongoing questions about the safety of fitness facilities, our industry is facing the most difficult time in its history," the email blast to members says.
The email then links to form letters for fitness club employees and for fitness club members to send to their MPP.
"That is why we are asking you to tell Premier Ford, Minister Elliott, Minister McLeod and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams that access to physical fitness opportunities and expert fitness advice is critical to the wellbeing of all Ontarians, and to work directly with members of the fitness industry to address concerns and develop solutions for operating safely during the pandemic," part of the letter reads. "We are also requesting that the Province of Ontario allows gyms and fitness centres to reopen following the latest round of mandatory closures in accordance with strict provincial and local public health advice."
Pushback from gyms became louder when the province reversed the closures imposed on dance studios, citing their cohorted clientele as a main difference between large gyms with drop-in clients.