The city is facing pressure to bring in paid staff to check immunization cards at Winnipeg-operated arenas after complaints volunteers are at risk of hostile encounters and being fined.
With all adults now required to show proof that they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter city-run rinks, the City of Winnipeg is requiring renters of those facilities to check immunization cards, instead of city staff. Members of the hockey community say that responsibility falls heavily on parents and other volunteers within their associations.
"What comes with it is a great deal of responsibility, in the sense that, the city has said that if you make a mistake... that they’re going to turn around and give (fines) to the associations... People don’t want the stress that goes with that," said Shaun Chornley, president of the St. Boniface Minor Hockey Association.
In late October, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson told the Free Press municipal officials would audit the city-operated arenas to ensure permit holders were checking for proof of vaccination.
"If the audit is not successful, or non-compliance occurs, permits may not be granted or continued access to arenas suspended temporarily or permanently. Fines may also be issued," said David Driedger, in an emailed statement.
Chornley said he’s concerned the average volunteer could have a higher risk for error and be more easily challenged by those visiting the rinks than a city staff member.
"We don’t want people to be in a situation, as volunteers, where they are dealing with a hostile (visitor) who doesn’t agree with (the immunization requirement)," he said.
The process is now in place at all open city-operated rinks. (St. James Civic Centre remains closed for repairs.)
Chornley said city staff should take over proof of vaccination checks as soon as possible, as the current policy could become a barrier to attracting volunteers.
Coun. Sherri Rollins agrees municipal staff should check for vaccination cards and said she’s pushing for that change.
"This is a basic service that the city should provide. The city is providing it at other facilities, for instance pools and gyms. It’s an oversight that we’re required to fix," said Rollins, the chairperson of council’s protection and community services committee.
The Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry councillor said there are clear obstacles to having volunteers complete the task.
"As a hockey mom, I know you can’t be both tying skates... and then running and getting the door to check (for immunization cards). (And) the vaccination verification is an important way... we ensure Winnipeg is safe (at its) recreation facilities," said Rollins.
The councillor said she hopes city staff will take over the role very soon.
"I would like to see this change soon, preferably before this weekend," she said.
Ian McCombe, who coaches a Valley Gardens hockey team, said his dedicated group of volunteers has handled the current system well so far.
While he stressed his top priority is to ensure kids can keeping accessing all available arenas, McCombe said he is concerned some teams lack the volunteer support needed to check for vaccination status.
"There could be other teams that are lacking support from their community... that could run into problems. I don’t want to see issues happen where things get shut down or community teams get fined for violating public health measures," he said.
Rollins is not calling to change immunization card checks at community centres, whose operators are responsible for checking vaccination status at their facilities.
Mayor Brian Bowman was not available for comment Tuesday. A spokesperson for his office said the mayor expects to answer questions on the topic Wednesday.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.