Carstairs asks province for guidance on Restrictions Exemption Program at its arena

The town of Carstairs has decided not to implement Alberta's Restriction Exemption Program (REP) at its arena. 

A council meeting on Monday evening saw councillors defer the option to the province, asking if they could instead use the program for some user groups but not for others. 

“When you go through the government mandates, we have to follow the guidelines” Mayor Lance Colby said. 

“So we tried to do what was best, what we saw for the overall good of our community.”

Because they decided not to implement the REP at the arena, youth sports groups under the age of 18 will not need to prove they have been vaccinated.

Parents who want to watch their kids play are also not required to show proof of vaccination when entering the facility. 

Instead, health measures are in place at the arena – including mandatory masking and physical distancing – and they are operating at one-third fire capacity. 

Under Alberta Health's guidelines, adult sport user groups are unable to use the facility unless town decides to implement the REP.

It's something that does not sit well with Carstairs Bruinettes player Marla Kimball. 

“There’s a lot of pressure from both sides, and in this case, the minor hockey (side) – or the kid's side – won,” Kimball said.

“I think the responsible decision is to go and get vaccinated, and I think that government is pushing for people to allow the vaccinated people to flow freely, whereas, restrict the unvaccinated people a little bit and put a little bit of pressure on them.”

Kimball said her team has not played in two years, and though everyone on it is fully vaccinated they can't play unless the decision is made by the town to implement the REP.

“I think the right decision is to put in place a REP at the arena and allow vaccinated people to use the arena and unvaccinated people to not,” she said. 

Kimball says she’s concerned by low vaccine uptake in rural Alberta, but suggests it’s difficult to change people’s minds, once they are made up. 

“I have nurses in my family, I understand the pressure the hospitals are under,” she said. 

According to provincial statistics, 60.4 per cent of people in the Didsbury and Carstairs area who are eligible for a COVID-19 shot have had a single dose, while 52.9 percent of those who are eligible are fully vaccinated. 

There are currently 108 active cases in the Didsbury, Carstairs and South Mountainview County region, according to the province.

Carstairs Minor Hockey president Richard Herbert said he would like to see an exemption for the community to the REP as it would allow more people to use the arena facility. 

Herbert admits that vaccines and COVID-19 have been very divisive topics for people in the community. and said having an exception for the REP at the arena would mean volunteers wouldn't be exposed to any abuse.  

“It’s a big advantage, because we don’t have to ask a volunteer-based organization to police who's in that building, and if they are there for our event or another event,” he said. 

Currently rural Alberta is seeing higher case counts per 100,000 people, compared to the large city centres. 

About 25 per cent of Alberta’s current active cases are in the Central, South and North zones. 

CTV News reached out to Alberta Health on whether they would grant the community an exception, but have not received a response. 

The City of Lacombe has also decided not to move forward with a facility-wide REP at its arena, the Gary Moe Auto Group Sportsplex.