Winnipeg skaters may soon have more rinks to glide across, now that community centres won’t be tasked with enforcing COVID-19 provincial health orders at their ice surfaces.
That’s welcome news to many centre operators, who feared their volunteers and staff wouldn’t be able to ensure all skaters followed the rules, said Lora Meseman, president of the board for the General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres.
"The whole situation would have been very uncomfortable... so much so that some centres were saying ‘We’re just not going to put the ice in,’" said Meseman.
On Thursday, the City of Winnipeg said the province confirmed municipalities and organizations, such as community centres, are expected to take "reasonable steps" to ensure users are aware of the pandemic rules in place at their rinks.
However, they are not expected to actually enforce the rules, said Jason Shaw, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management.
"This means that signs can be put up at facilities clearly indicating the rules but it will be up to the individuals to ensure they are complying with the health orders and not up to the owners of the rinks to monitor," said Shaw. "We are asking everyone to respect the provincial public health orders so we can continue to have these venues open safely."
The rules require skaters to stay at least two metres apart from those they don’t live with, and ensure that group sizes are capped at five or fewer people, unless they all live in the same household.
Shaw noted organized games on the ice are not allowed.
Meseman, whose group supports 63 Winnipeg community centres, said enforcement of those rules would have been especially challenging for community centres right now, since their buildings remain closed to the public and many have had to lay off staff. She said centres were also concerned that enforcement could have sparked conflicts between staff or volunteers and those violating the health orders.
"Everybody wants to (open the rinks) but we were anxious because how am I supposed to police or enforce that type of rule? This (announcement) allows us to focus on doing what we do best and that is putting in the rinks and allowing people to skate," she said.
The organization is now conducting a survey of how many community centres plan to open their rinks.
The Windsor Community Centre has already opened two hockey rinks and another open ice surface, said acting office manager Gerry Beaulieu.
Beaulieu said those rinks are not crowded but are proving popular.
"The phone never stops ringing because there’s so many people inquiring about this. They’re very happy to see it open," she said. "People need it. They desperately need to come out and skate."
Roblin Park Community Centre plans to open one rink this weekend, though some details are still being worked out, said spokesperson Tyler Walsh.
Walsh said the news that rink operators won’t have to enforce COVID rules made that decision easier.
"There was a liability issue that we were concerned we might be facing fines if a health inspector came on site and saw that people weren’t following the proper protocols. We didn’t want to have to be fined potentially thousands of dollars," said Walsh.
"There’s no way we can monitor the site 24/7... I can’t say that we wouldn’t have opened but it would have (required) a significant amount of effort to try and figure out how to make that happen," he added.
While the city has also begun to prepare its own rinks, an official confirmed none were ready Thursday.
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.