Rankin Inlet’s evening gym program at the Simon Alaittuq School (SAS) is on hold as the hamlet and education authority clash over the proof-of-vaccination bylaw.
The hamlet would like to reopen its evening sports program at the school, but the Rankin Inlet District Education Authority won’t let it happen if it means Bylaw 326 – the vaccine passport rule – would be enforced.
On Feb. 25, DEA office administrator Deanna Fitzpatrick emailed hamlet recreation director David Clark that with the updated guidelines from the Chief Public Health Officer and easing of some restrictions coming Feb. 28, the board would allow the return of evening recreation sports programs at SAS – on one condition.
“There is one mandatory, non-negotiable condition that is required going forward,” wrote Fitzpatrick. “The board will not allow the requirement of proof of vaccination passport under Bylaw No. 326 to be enforced in the schools. The schools are an inclusive environment and all programs within the schools must be open to all members of the community.”
Clark forwarded that email to Senior Administrative Officer Darren Flynn, who in turn sought guidance from CPHO Dr. Michael Patterson.
According to an email presented to council, Patterson replied that his interpretation of the situation is the hamlet can mandate proof of vaccination in the community and the DEA cannot choose whether or not to enforce it.
“If they open to the general public or to after-hours activity they have to do so in a way that meets both the public health orders and local bylaws,” wrote Patterson.
Hamlet council discussed the conflict at its Feb. 28 meeting.
“The DEA hasn’t made a right decision in 10 years,” said Coun. Justin Merritt, “so why would they be right on this?”
He suggested the hamlet close down the program for the next month while the council reviews the bylaw – which members indicated could be revoked as early as April after more information is gathered – and make sure the public knows why the program is on hold.
“The DEA put a gun to our head to make a decision,” said Merritt. “They gave us no flexibility to carry on for another month.”
He went on to call the education board “nothing but uncooperative” and said, “Nobody’s going to put a gun to my head and tell me to change things.”
Later that week, the DEA met on March 3 and discussed the conflict as well. Chair Albert Netser said the board received an email from Flynn echoing the discussions in council, informing the board the hamlet’s gym program at SAS would be shut down indefinitely.
The DEA, for its part, decided to stick to its guns as well.
“It’s the discriminating part that we don’t agree with,” said Netser, calling attention to a hamlet posting earlier in February that expressed dismay at the DEA’s direction and emphasized the importance of exercise to improve mental and physical health in the community.
“All at the same time the hamlet is saying that they care about the mental and wellbeing of the community, but we cannot go in there because of a vaccine status,” said Netser. “They’re creating two societies now.”
Ford Widrig, who swore in as a new member of the DEA earlier in the meeting, said the vaccine passport bylaw was why he left the Rankin Inlet Fitness Society.
“That was a hamlet facility,” he said. “Bylaw 326 was not something I agree with. I didn’t feel comfortable volunteering my time to an organization that operated under those circumstances.”
By the end of the discussion, the DEA clarified that people and groups are still able to use the SAS gym for sports, vaccinated or not – they just have to individually apply with the DEA to book a time, but the hamlet’s program with open timeslots is currently suspended, as it would fall under the bylaw.