Several gym and fitness studio owners are organizing outdoor workouts in protest of the Ontario government’s ban on outdoor fitness classes.
A provincial stay-at-home order — first imposed on April 8 for four weeks and now extended until May 20 — means outdoor gatherings are banned and outdoor amenities, other than playgrounds, are closed. This includes group outdoor fitness activities, which have been largely shuttered for months.
Since the new restrictions took hold, dozens have gathered at popular Toronto landmarks such as Nathan Phillips Square, Queen’s Park and City Hall, to exercise and demand that group fitness classes be deemed essential.
Geordan Thomas, owner of United Boxing Club, is one of several gym and fitness studio owners involved in these demonstrations, called United We Fight, in the hopes of gaining the province’s attention.
“Outdoor activities done in a safe manner should be allowed,” said Thomas.
The group staged a demonstration on Sunday, with dozens partaking in a physically-distanced workout at Canoe Landing Park.
“This is not just a workout; this is a movement. This is a campaign and this is a protest,” he told CBC News.
Thomas says measures like physical distancing and contact tracing are in place at each workout display.
Given limited staffing on weekends, Toronto Public Health was unable to retrieve data on whether or not these workout demonstrations have led to COVID-19 transmission.
In late March, the Ford government announced that outdoor fitness would be permitted to reopen in regions under lockdown in order to allow people to do more outside.
Less than a week later, Ontario imposed a provincewide “emergency brake” to stem the growth of the third wave of the pandemic, which banned outdoor fitness once again.
Outdoor activities not completely safe, doctor says
Dr. Jeff Kwong, senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto, is concerned about the demonstrations.
He says the gatherings can be dangerous, especially if masks aren’t worn while people are working out and breathing heavily.
“I’m all for outdoor activity, but do it in a small group or alone and wear a mask when you’re out,” he said.
“We know its a lot safer outdoors than indoors but it’s not completely safe.”
This month, as the province banned outdoor activities, including tennis and golf, several medical experts said the risk of outdoor transmission is “exceedingly small.“
“I think opening as many outdoor spaces as possible is a good thing, and I think it’s just a matter of people understanding how they can be safe,” Kwong said.
In a statement on Sunday, Ford’s office said: “As we continue battling this third wave of COVID variants, we are urging everyone right now to only gather with people they live with and stay home as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, Nicole Afable, a participant at Sunday’s protest, says the mental health impacts of not being able to take a workout class outweigh the risk of being fined for participating in the group sessions.
“Throughout the pandemic… the thing that kept me sane was moving my body and working out,” she said.
“We are allowed to peacefully assemble and get our voices heard.”
CBC News reached out to Toronto police for information regarding tickets or arrests at these demonstrations, but they did not offer any details.
Thomas said bylaw officers have attended some of the protests but left without ticketing anyone.
Fitness industry needlessly targeted, studio owner says
Eddy Bucardo, owner of fitness studio Unchained Atheletics, argues COVID-19 restrictions have needlessly harmed his industry.
“It’s been very detrimental to how we make business. The online space can only go so far,” he said.
“With these lockdowns preventing outdoor fitness, it kind of renders us useless.”
Bucardo teamed up with several other studios to create Fit Safe Ontario, another group that organizes outdoor workout protests at places like Yonge-Dundas Square and Queen’s Park — in collaboration with United We Fight.
Bucardo says the assumption that everyone can workout on their own is inappropriate.
“Not a lot of people know how to move their bodies… It’s a very ignorant statement.”