Only fully vaccinated members allowed in Timmins gym when it reopens Friday

As many non-essential businesses look forward to reopening on Friday, a gym in Timmins is implementing a new policy when it reopens: members will need to be fully immunized with a COVID-19 vaccine to use the facility.

Discover Fitness’ co-owner, Lisa Tremblay, told CTV her team feels this is the right thing to do to make sure people eager to resume in-person workouts are protected.

"We deal with people who are sick, who have diabetes, who are immune-compromised, who are overweight," Tremblay explained. "We wanted to make sure that everybody who attended the establishment felt safe."

Tremblay added with the uncertainty of this pandemic and worries over COVID cases surging again, her team wanted to make sure the gym could stay open if another lockdown occurs.

Vetted by a legal team, according to Tremblay, the gym’s new policy requires members to email copies of their vaccination receipts to confirm they’ve received all of their shots — and then the gym promises they’ll be promptly deleted.

Mixed public reaction

The move received a mixed reaction when announced on social media, some feeling it’s a discriminatory move and others praising it as an added measure of security.

Institutions and businesses around the country have been implementing similar policies, though Discover Fitness seems to be the first in Timmins to join the effort.

The city’s Mayor, George Pirie, said he’s in support of a business’ right to take measures it thinks will keep its customers safe.

"They’re promoting the wellbeing and safety of the community, it’s their policy and I support it," Pirie told CTV. "It may be controversial for other people but, look, the business decided it’s in their best interest."

Concerns over civil rights

While critics of proof-of-vaccination policies cite concerns over privacy and potential civil rights concerns, Ottawa human rights lawyer Nicholas Pope told CTV that there doesn’t appear to be a precedent for businesses requiring customers to be fully vaccinated.

As the Ontario Human Rights Code is written, businesses can’t discriminate against customers or employees based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. As well, a business can implement dress codes, for example, or would be able to refuse service to a disruptive customer.

And when it comes to requiring vaccinations, school boards and healthcare settings, for example, have been able to require staff and students to get certain vaccines.

As for whether any business or institution can refuse service to patrons who are not immunized with a particular vaccine, Pope said there is no clear writing preventing that.

Therefore, businesses do have the right to implement a proof-of-vaccination policy, Pope said, "as long as they are willing to accommodate to the point of undue hardship anyone who is not vaccinated because of their creed or a disability."

Pope does, however, expect that cases will be taken to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal down the line, but believes they may be irrelevant by the time they see court.

As part of Discover Fitness’ policy, it will allow people who cannot get a COVID vaccine due to a disability, medical issue or certain religious belief. Tremblay said the gym is also willing to work with people who wish to cancel their membership.

Clear guidance needed from Ford

The Timmins Chamber took notice of Discover Fitness’ policy change as well and its president Melanie Verreault said she supports it as well.

However, Verreault said the Chamber would like the federal and provincial governments to step up and provide a clear, standard framework for businesses and institutions that wish to implement these policies — rather than letting them consult with lawyers and draft their own rules.

"I think it’s important that businesses and business owners get that guidance," said Verreault, adding that there should also be guidelines that could potentially allow unvaccinated people to access these businesses safely."

"Implementing a vaccine passport or requiring unvaccinated clients to produce a negative test at no cost to the business owner should be, maybe, areas that we do explore moving forward."

As of yet, the Ford government’s stance on a vaccine passport has been that it will not produce one. The province suggests people can use the vaccination receipts that are sent out after getting a shot.

Policy stands firm

As for Tremblay, while she knows many people are unhappy with her business’ move, she said her team is not willing to cave to public pressure like she’s noticed other businesses do that have put similar policies in place.

She hopes that it will lead to a safer environment for staff and clients in the long run.

"If this decision closes us down, then at least we’re going to close down knowing that we did the absolute best that we could and moralistically did what was right," said Tremblay.