British Columbia

Interior Health sues to shut down gym defying COVID-19 health orders

The health authority in B.C.'s Interior has filed a lawsuit against a prominent gym in Kelowna, B.C., for openly defying a number of public health orders over the past several months.

Lawsuit claims Iron Energy Gym is refusing to ask clients to show vaccine cards or wear masks inside

Iron Energy Gym in West Kelowna, B.C., pictured on Wednesday. The gym faces fines and a lawsuit for contravening COVID-19 orders and restrictions. (Thomas Popyk/CBC)

The health authority in B.C.'s Interior has filed a lawsuit in hopes of shutting down a gym in Kelowna, B.C., that has defied a number of public health orders over the past several months.

Interior Health claimed Iron Energy Gym has regularly broken orders around masks and vaccine passports, as well as the order to shut down completely during the Omicron wave.

"The defendants have and are continuing to willfully contravene the closure order, the public health orders and the Public Health Act," read the claim filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court.

"The conduct of the defendants is, among other things, putting the health and safety of the public at serious risk."

The gym has not filed a response to the claim in court, but has been open on social media and in interviews about its opposition to public health orders restricting fitness facilities.

"Of course, we're going to fight this and of course, we're not backing down," owner Brian Mark said in an Instagram live posted Wednesday, after the gym was served with the lawsuit. 

"This is just adding fuel to the fire."

Gym has history of ignoring orders, lawsuit says

The lawsuit details what it describes as months of defiance by the gym, starting with a refusal to ask gym members to show their vaccine cards after the requirement began in September.

It said the gym also ignored the order around indoor masks after it was reinstated in early December.

Tensions reached a high point later that month, after the province ordered fitness facilities across the province to close.

A 'Free B.C.' sign is seen on the front window of Iron Energy Gym in West Kelowna, B.C., on Wednesday. (Thomas Popyk/CBC)

Iron Energy Gym stayed open for weeks after the order came down on Dec. 21. Its owners helped organize Operation Green Light, a campaign that saw roughly 100 gyms across B.C. open their doors despite the public health order.

Mark spoke with CBC News on Jan. 18 about the decision to stay open.

"Operation Green Light was about making a stand for our freedom. We were basically sticking our stake in the ground and saying, 'We're going to open and we're going to remain open.'

And of course, we're going to protect the safety of our members and clean all of our equipment ... but like, we're not asking for permission to exercise," said Mark.

"We still stand for freedom. We stand for mental health."

Mark acknowledged at the time that the gym had received formal warnings, been fined $2,300 and ordered to close by Interior Health.

"We actually ripped the closure order off and put our Free B.C. sign up there because we're standing based on the Canadian Constitution," he said. 

Gyms in B.C. were allowed to gradually reopen as of Jan. 20, but vaccine cards and safety plans are still required. Interior Health claimed Iron Energy Gym still isn't asking for vaccine cards or requiring clients to wear masks inside.

Interior Health ordered the gym to close under the Public Health Act on Feb. 3, but it has remained open. 

The health authority is asking for a court order to stop the owners from running the gym, according to the claim. It's also asking for an order authorizing RCMP to arrest anybody who violates such an order.

The lawsuit is moving ahead because it is linked to the gym's alleged contravention of the Public Health Act, which is unaffected by the provincial health orders being lifted Thursday.

With files from Brady Strachan