Skip to content

Multiplex staying with REP for now

Fifty-seven letters demand one-third capacity rules be put in place, while user groups want current program to stay
20211129 ARMS_Anderson_Kapitaniuk_HS_WEB
In a 4-2 split vote, the restriction exemption program (REP) will remain in effect for the Athabasca Multiplex and Nancy Appleby Theatre and will be reviewed again by Jan. 31, 2022, or if there are changes ordered by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw. (L-R): Athabasca County Coun. Ashtin Anderson and Coun. Natasha Kapitaniuk where the only two votes against keeping the REP in place.

ATHABASCA — It was a long discussion and a split vote, but the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society (ARMS) will keep the REP in place for now and revisit the subject at the end of January. 

The restrictions exemption program, or REP, is one of two options facility operators were given under orders from the provincial government Sept. 20 to allow gatherings that were restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also the one offering the most flexibility with the least headache for staff explained facility manager Rhonda Alix at the Nov. 29 ARMS meeting. 

“Our employees would have to enforce social distancing and capacities which may have the potential for them to have multiple conflict opportunities with guests, community backlash or confusion because of the changing decision from going with a REP program,” Alix said. 

Right now, when patrons enter, those 18 years and older show their proof of vaccination or results of a recent rapid COVID-19 test at the front desk and continue to whichever program or event they are participating in. Switching to the alternative program of allowing in one-third of fire code capacity would require adult sports groups, weddings, or funerals to enforce their own REP, remove dine-in food service and eliminate liquor sales as well as stop or limit drop-in events and sports. 

ARMS vice-chair and Athabasca County Coun. Natasha Kapitaniuk cited 57 e-mails demanding a move to one-third saying it is cost prohibitive for unvaccinated adults to continue paying for COVID-19 tests. 

“The theme (of the e-mails) is very much the same,” she said. “It's not being seen by the public, just from my perspective, that the REP program is actually functioning because nobody sees the Multiplex ever at full capacity.” 

Alix said it can be deceiving as each area has its own capacity including the lobby and added if the one-third program had been in place just the previous Friday evening, Nov. 26, it could have led to logistical problems getting players and spectators in and out of the building. 

“We actually had 140 people in the stands at the U-18 game on Friday night – we counted, and the capacity is 160 (at one-third) – and that is just a regular Friday night game, so we do get to capacity,” Alix said. “The other thing to think about is those 140 people have to leave through the lobby. Our lobby capacity is lower than our capacity in our arena.” 

There would also be added cleaning needed between games under one-third capacity leading to less ice time. 

"We have 15 minutes in between each game right now,” she said. “So instead of having 15 minutes, we might have to go to half an hour or 45 minutes, because those 140 people that were in there Friday night, would have to leave the building before we can welcome any more people in. So, parents wouldn't be able to show up until maybe 10 to 15 minutes before the game and then they can access the building and then they would have to leave immediately afterwards, in order to just follow the capacity rules in the lobby and in the arena.” 

Alix also added that's not even considering a weekend with a Farmers’ Market and a curling bonspiel happening at the same time as hockey and as people are trying to get through the lobby to the fitness centre or for swimming. 

“So, it may not look like we're at capacity sometimes, but to juggle some of the capacities we would have to change some of the ways we do things,” she said. 

Kapitaniuk then asked for clarification on the legal liability of non-vaccinated parents dropping off their children unattended saying it could lead to an increase in predators hanging around the facility as well, but Town of Athabasca mayor Rob Balay, who is also a ARMS director, noted parents dropping of children unattended was an issue long before COVID-19. 

“Just to speak to the liability, I mean, previous to COVID times, parents would drop their kids off and go downtown and coaches looked after the kids,” he said. "I ran this facility for seven years; I know exactly what happened. That's why we instituted a policy (500-004, Supervision of Youth, adopted Sept. 1, 2007) to say that you can’t leave your child at least until they’re nine or 10 (depending on the program).” 

Kapitaniuk then pointed out in the stack of e-mails where three people threatened to pull their sponsorship at the Multiplex. 

“They may pick another reason why they won’t want to advertise and maybe this one is their excuse today," said ARMS chair Dave Pacholok, a Town of Athabasca councillor. “If they are wanting to be a part of this community, then that should be something that they would consider as well.” 

Town of Athabasca Coun. Jon LeMessurier, an ARMS director as well, said after speaking with local doctors and nurses and consulting several user groups he felt maintaining the REP was the only way to go. 

“The physician was adamant we’re not over this pandemic and I discussed with him what they're experiencing daily in the hospital,” said LeMessurier as part of a longer statement. “He most recently saw two patients last night (Nov. 28) who were positive for COVID-19. They were both extremely sick, struggling to breathe for their life and the underlying factor – they were unvaccinated.” 

User groups can run essentially unencumbered under REP but switching to one-third would impact Ukrainian dance, Pickleball, hockey, figure skating, curling, drop-ins and the hockey academy for Edwin Parr Composite School (EPC), swimming, Green Dragon Kung Fu, spin class, drop-in basketball and volleyball, a seniors walking group, the Farmers’ Market and Baseline Training fitness classes. At the Nancy Appleby Theatre, which is also under the ARMS umbrella, it would impact EPC, Heartwood Folk Club, and the Athabasca Dance Society. 

At one-third capacity it would also impact the ability of the curling club to hold bonspiels, or Athabasca Minor Hockey's bid to host provincials. 

Balay, Pacholok, LeMessurier, along with county councillor and ARMS director Joe Gerlach voted to keep the REP in place and review it by Jan. 31, 2022, while county deputy reeve and ARMS secretary-treasurer Ashtin Anderson and Kapitaniuk voted against the motion. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
Read more