Wednesday, November 24 2021

Spectator limits will be significantly increased after concerns from the hockey community, but city staff say implementation will be a challenge.

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay City Council has voted to dramatically increase spectator numbers at city arenas, despite uncertainty over costs and implementation details.

The decision came after a controversial nearly three-hour debate on Monday evening, with some advisers fearing they were left with no assurance that the new limits could reasonably be implemented.

Key city staff have warned this remains unclear and said it could take weeks for the new rules to come into effect due to complications from provincial public health rules.

The new board-approved limits will see spectator limits set at 50 percent of each arena‘s indoor seating capacity, the maximum allowed under provincial regulations.

This will result in the following spectator limits:

  • Port Arthur Arena – 308
  • Current River Arena – 155
  • Arena Delaney – 110
  • Neebing Arena – 94
  • Big View – 102

The city had previously increased the limits to 45 spectators per arena, after increasing pressure from the hockey community.

Several advisers echoed community frustrations on Monday that the number appeared “arbitrary”.

Lex MacArthur, a local hockey coach and parent, said no cases were linked to minor hockey locally last year. Now, with high vaccination rates, he said there was no reason to restrict attendance beyond provincial requirements.

“The Thunder Bay hockey community has done everything asked of it for 19 months, and now is the time to reward them for their diligence,” said

Community Services General Manager Kelly Robertson said the lower limits were necessary given limited human resources to screen spectators and hockey participants, a process that now includes checking vaccination certificates, managing the movement inside the building and disinfection of equipment in accordance with Ontario regulations.

That would make it difficult to allow larger limits, agreed City Manager Norm Gale.

“We are not at all convinced that we can adhere to the spirit and intention of [provincial regulations] with these numbers, ”he told councilors.

This explanation still left many advisers dissatisfied with the advice. Aldo Ruberto sees no reason why the city could not develop “simple solutions” to these challenges.

City staff will return to council on October 4 with a report outlining any additional costs or operational issues associated with implementing the new rules.

Several advisers argued that it made little sense to rush a decision on capacity limits before seeing this information, but others protested that the hockey community had already waited weeks for a resolution to their concerns.

People involved in local hockey have pleaded in large numbers, and sometimes aggressively, for changes online.

“Facebook comments are out of this world in terms of volume and what people think about this particular issue,” Councilor Shelby Ch’ng said.

A motion to delay the vote until October 4, from the Council. Andrew Foulds, failed on a tie.

The vote to increase capacity limits went 10-2, with the boards. Shelby Ch’ng and Rebecca Johnson voting against.


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