Quebec CrossFit 819 Owner Still Pursuing Legal Action To Prevent Future Lockdowns Despite Gyms Reopening
Quebec announced gyms will be allowed to reopen at half capacity on February 14, bringing the total lockdowns the fitness industry in Quebec has endured to four, totalling close to 400 days.
No reason to celebrate: While this might seem like good news, Shane Miller, the owner of CrossFit 819 in Gatineau, Quebec, a gym that has been mandated closed due to COVID-19 for 14 of the last 22 months, is skeptical this will be the last time he will be told to close his doors.
As a result, he’s continuing to push forward with a Charter Challenge—a legal challenge to the government because he believes his rights and freedoms have been violated—in an attempt to show that gyms are an essential service, and that it’s unconstitutional to close them down.
“We aren’t the problem,” he said. “We are part of the solution.”
- “If you just look back at the record… it was two weeks (of closures), and then it was another two weeks, then it was a month, then another month… they just do this over and over and over, so I totally don’t have any faith in the government (that this will be the last time),” Miller said.
- He added: “And it won’t change my Charter Challenge, because the bottom line is, that as long as they can keep doing this, we’re at risk of continually going deeper and deeper into debt… and if I go out of business, then I can’t help any of the people that rely on us. I also really want to make sure that in the future we can’t be shut down, so we can’t keep people healthy. Lots of people need it.”
The Canadian scene: Like the United States, the extent of restrictions and length of gym lockdowns has largely depended on where you live. Gyms in the province of British Columbia on the west coast of the country, for example, have been largely open since the first wave of the pandemic, albeit currently with capacity restrictions, while gyms in the more eastern provinces of Quebec and its neighboring province, Ontario, have faced some of the toughest restrictions and longest lockdowns in the world. That being said, not all gyms in those provinces have experienced the same level of enforcement or devastation as Miller’s gym has.
- CrossFit’s Canadian Country Manager Paul Tremblay, for example, said that his gym CrossFit NCR in Ottawa, Ontario has been operating at 50 percent capacity for a year, but it “doesn’t affect my business whatsoever,” he said, as capacity rules are determined based off the fire code in the province, which theoretically still allows him to have 200 people in the gym.
- Still, he feels for Quebec gym owners. “Affiliate owners have gone through a lot, persevered and did everything they could to keep their communities moving and healthy,” he said.
Remind me: Last week we reported on CrossFit 819’s decision to continue operating despite a gym closure mandate that began in December 2021, a decision that ultimately landed Miller in court last month. The result was the judge instructing Miller he would be in breach of a court order if he continued to operate, an offense that could land him 30 days in jail.
- “I would be very happy to go to jail for 30 days for this fight, but I have a wife and three kids and it would be more than they would be able to handle,” he said.
What happened next: Miller obeyed the court order and closed his doors two weeks ago, resuming his Zoom class service to his dwindling clientele, and filed a motion for a Charter Challenge in hopes of proving closing gyms is unconstitutional, and that “these lockdowns are basically infringing upon my right to earn a living and people’s rights to associate here,” he said.
- Miller is awaiting the Attorney General’s response for a trial date, and is in the process of gathering evidence and testimonials to build his case, which could take a number of months and a lot of money—his lawyer told him to budget for at least $25,000.
- Considering Miller has lost more than 50 percent of the 300 members he had at the start of the pandemic due to the continued lockdowns and has gone into debt in the process, he is hoping to raise money via GoFundMe to help him pay for the court costs.
- His ultimate goal is to prevent future lockdowns “so they can’t do this to us again,” Miller said. “And then there will be precedent for other gyms. I just want to try to do something to help.”
The big picture: Even though gyms are set to reopen on February 14, Miller said has lost all faith that this will actually happen, let alone that this will be the last lockdown in Quebec—lockdowns he has seen wreak havoc on the physical and mental health of the people in his community.
- “I had one client come back when we re-opened the first time and he had gained 70 or 80 pounds. Another member was a former drug user and was using CrossFit as a way to kick that (addiction) and he didn’t come back… Another couple girls said they were too ashamed (of how they looked) to come back,” Miller said.
- “All this stuff is weighing on me. I don’t know anyone who has died of COVID, but I have seen health seriously impacted among my members. People are facing mental health challenges, and I can’t in my good conscience not do anything about it.”