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Defiant West Kelowna gym amasses support from municipal, provincial officials

Iron Energy Gym co-owner Brian Mark declared his refusal to close the doors to a crowd at the front doors of the gym on Jan. 6, 2022.
Image Credit: INSTAGRAM/Cale Fraser

The local MLA along with at least three West Kelowna city councillors have voiced their support for a West Kelowna gym defying health officials and say they would like to see the province reconsider the public health order that temporarily ordered fitness centres to close from Dec. 22 to Jan. 18.

Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart penned a letter to the provincial health minister, claiming the decision to close gyms was done "without data" that fitness centres increase the spread of COVID-19.

Stewart told that the "turning point" for him in the form of emails and messages from constituents claiming the provincial health order was made "arbitrarily."

"When I came back from Christmas break, I was checking emails and I didn't quite realize the magnitude until we got back from the New Year, and I thought this hasn't been done right," Stewart said. "It was people that were exasperated by the fact that they wouldn't have that mental health work out."

READ MORE: West Kelowna gym fined for defying health order not giving up fight

Iron Energy Gym kept its doors open for its members after the order was delivered, claiming that it offers a space that not only allows their customers to work on their physical health, but also their mental health.

Iron Energy owners, including its most outspoken, Brian Mark, have used the mental health messaging to encourage others to reach out to elected officials and voice their support to allow gyms to open their doors again.

The gym has since been fined $2,300 by Interior Health for public health violations and the City of West Kelowna denied a business license renewal because of health regulations.

All the while, members continue to exercise at Iron Energy Fitness.

READ MORE: Pair of Kelowna yoga studios remain open despite public health orders

Stewart is critical of the lack of publicly available data to support health officials' claims that gyms are a source of COVID-19 transmission, but he takes more issue with a lack of consultation with gym owners before the order was handed down.

"I'm not challenging (provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's) efforts to try to reduce COVID (transmission). What I'm challenging is there was no dialogue with these fitness centres," Stewart said.

At the City of West Kelowna, councillors Jason Friesen, Jayson Zilkie and Stephen Johnston are in support of Iron Energy Gym's efforts to lift the public health orders.

Friesen and Zilkie, however, said their support for the gym's efforts ends at the decision to outright defy public health orders and keep its doors open.

READ MORE: 534 B.C. residents in hospital and 102 in ICU with COVID-19

"I provided a letter to (Iron Energy) indicating to them that I too was frustrated with the mandate. I did not provide them a letter of support in their actions because I would wish they would have gone about it in a different fashion," Friesen said. "I never like to see people achieving a goal by disobeying laws."

Johnston said he supports the gym owners' right to voice their opinions, but asks that they do so in a "respectful way."

Zilkie told he would like to see more transparency from Interior Health, and from the provincial health ministry, on its data to support closures of specific businesses.

The health order on Dec. 22 included gyms, along with bars and nightclubs, in an effort to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

"Gyms are high risk environments because they facilitate people exercising and breathing hard in an indoor space," Interior Health said in a statement, adding that the risk for COVID-19 transmission is a risk because it is spread through respiratory droplets.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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