Fitness centre in B.C.'s Okanagan that flouted COVID-19 orders forced to close

A fitness centre in West Kelowna, B.C., that openly defied COVID-19 public health orders has been ordered to close, but one of its owners vows it will stay open.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher E. Hinkson granted Interior Health’s request for an injunction against Iron Energy Gym on Friday afternoon, following months of alleged rule-breaking by the facility.

According to the health authority’s lawsuit, Iron Energy has continuously ignored COVID-19 orders since mid-September – when the province’s vaccine card program was launched – by refusing to check clients’ proof of vaccination.

Interior Health also received a number of complaints that the gym ignored B.C.’s mask mandate, and remained open despite a province-wide closure order for fitness facilities issued in December.

“The Defendants have and are continuing to willingly contravene the Closure Order, the Public Health Orders, and the Public Health Act,” the notice of civil claims reads. “The conduct of the Defendants is, among other things, putting the health and safety of the public at serious risk.”

The lawsuit names the gym, eight owners and directors, and the storage company that owns the property where Iron Energy is located.

In a social media post, co-owner Brian Mark defended the gym’s decision to flout public health orders.

“People that are coming to our gym have the right to choose what they put in their body, have the right to wear a mask or not to wear a mask,” he said on Thursday. “We’re staying open so that our members can exercise, can work on their physical and mental health. Now the argument that they’re making in court … is that we are a danger to public health when we’re the reason that people are staying healthy.”

Before Interior Health launched the lawsuit, it had ticketed the gym 21 times, issuing a total of $7,245 worth of fines for non-compliance of the various orders.

Hinkson’s decision referenced another judge’s previous injunction order against a Hope restaurant that also failed to abide by public health orders.

“On the application before me, it is not the court’s role to second guess the decisions from public health officials in respect to what activities constitute a risk to the people of British Columbia,” Hinkson said. “Iron Energy has breached the closure order by failing to close its gym.”

Two hours after the decision was handed down, Mark posted a 16-minute-long video arguing he and the other defendants were “railroaded” from the beginning, saying they only had a couple of days to prepare before the case went to the judge.

“We were denied natural justice,” he said in his Instagram post.

It was an argument their defendants’ lawyer also made when asking the judge to adjourn the hearing.

The gym’s lawyer, Terry McCaffrey, argued the lawsuit and supporting documents were dropped off to the gym’s reception desk and did not provide the documents until after the Order of Short Notice was granted.

“All of the defendants have been denied natural justice, procedural fairness or other procedures required by law with the scheduling of the plaintiffs’ application before the court as the defendants have been denied,” he wrote in his response to the health authority’s application.

Mark also incorrectly stated the closure order violated the Canadian Constitution, and that is why they refuse to follow it.

“We are pro-choice,” he said. “We’re proud of that and it’s disappointing that we didn’t get the chance to make the argument in court.”

He also doubled down and said the gym will continue to take a stand against the public health orders and plans to sue Interior Health.

“Guess what? We were ordered to close before too, the only difference is now it’s coming from the court versus Interior Health. But it’s the same closure order and we’re still here,” he said. “You guys ready for this? So we are opening a counterclaim and we are coming after Interior Health for issuing us a closure order.”

The gym has not responded to CTV News Vancouver’s requests for comment.

Both Interior Health and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said they will not be commenting on the case as it is before the courts. 

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By Betty C. Giordano

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