'Give your head a shake': Legal experts slam cage fighting gym owner for flouting COVID-19 science
Lee Mein says his guess will prove science wrong and his gym will open on his terms
A southern Alberta gym owner who has publicly threatened to reopen before the province says it's safe to do so, while stating he rejects science and won't follow any COVID-19 health protocols, has left some in the legal community scratching their heads wondering, what the heck is he thinking?
"It's incredibly irresponsible," Mount Royal University criminologist Kelly Sundberg told CBC News.
"It is against the law. There is a health order and there are rules in place. If anyone communicates so publicly their intention to disregard the laws of public health and safety, I am hoping the Alberta government and Lethbridge police will make an example of this business owner."
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Lee Mein raised eyebrows but also rallied like-minded troops when he posted a video rant to Facebook, saying his Lethbridge gym would be open June 1.
Alberta is currently in Stage 1 of the province's relaunch strategy. Gyms are set to open in Stage 3 and that date has not been announced, nor have the guidelines around conditions of reopening.
"There is no common-sense approach to why they are doing what they are doing," Mein told CBC News.
"It doesn't make sense to me."
'I don't see any proof'
Mein said there will be no additional cleaning at his gym, like what is being ordered in B.C., because he said his gym-cleaning standards are sufficient.
"It just doesn't make any sense at all," he said.
"I don't see any proof that these protocols, these hoops they are making you jump through make any difference."
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And that's where Alberta's top doctor jumps into the cage to clarify.
"The virus has not gone away," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said in her Monday COVID-19 update.
"The fact we have been so successful is because of these measures we have taken together. If collectively we stop taking these protective measures, then my concern is that the virus can spread and spread to people who are vulnerable to poor outcomes. We have to stay in this together."
Sundberg says that's kind of the point. Let experts be experts.
"It's foolish for someone who does not have a medical and public health background to say they know better than the doctors. This is absurd in itself," the criminologist said.
Mein said he knows best and there's lots of online supporters cheering him on. His public Facebook page is overflowing with supportive comments and critics are dismissed in short order.
"Why do I have to wear a mask as an instructor ... yet you don't have to wear a mask at a grocery store. How does that make any sense at all?" Mein said.
"Everyone is guessing right now. I am guessing that I am right. And time will prove I am right ... I don't see the proof that people are interacting with each other and then dropping dead. That is not happening. The hospitals are not overwhelmed, so what is the problem now?"
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Another Calgary criminologist understands the anger Mein and many others are feeling, and said their questions are legitimate, but added science should still be at the core of the conversation.
"It's understandable that people are becoming frustrated or tired of the restrictions in place, but the restrictions were put into place for a reason," Lorian Hardcastle said.
"The government was acting in an abundance of caution."
Hardcastle is an assistant professor in the University of Calgary's law faculty and Cumming School of Medicine, so her expertise is in both legal and health issues.
She said Mein should proceed with caution.
"The owner is opening at his own peril. We have seen public health officials issuing orders to several fitness facilities back in March to immediately close. It's not March. People know they are supposed to be closed, know what they are supposed to be doing," Hardcastle said.
"That may harm his business more in the long run, because of the fine but also the reputational damage because he is deliberately ignoring public health guidelines."
And he runs the very real risk of potentially being made an example of.
"This isn't a case of not understanding or misreading orders, so public health officials may choose to set a precedent by coming down harder on him than someone who merely misunderstood," she explained.
"There may be a desire to make an example out of him given how vocally and deliberately he is disregarding these orders."
Police could take action
Lethbridge police say they will act, if pushed.
"We follow the Government of Alberta guidelines regarding business openings and we appreciate the public's voluntary compliance with these rules," spokesperson Kristen Harding wrote in an emailed statement.
"We don't want to ticket people but if there is a flagrant violation of the rules we will take action and gym operators and other businesses need to understand this."
Things are being done wrong, gym owner says
Gym owner Mein said he simply doesn't believe what the experts are saying and said it's time someone stood up.
"I don't want to follow the protocols the government is putting out for other gyms in other provinces because they are redundant and they don't make any sense," Mein said.
"I don't live in fear. I am not going to live my life by someone else's fears."
He says many of the people that have died, probably would have died regardless of COVID-19.
"I see that things are being done wrong and I want it sped up. I want to push this. I want to make this happen for those that need that."
Meanwhile, Sundberg says that attitude is a slap in the face to a lot of people.
"This is ridiculous, give your head a shake," Sundberg said.
"You know what? Everyone is frustrated. We are all in this together. Think of your community. Think of your province. Think of your fellow citizens. Accept the fact we have some incredibly hard-working, dedicated medical professionals and researchers who are putting their own lives on the line for all of us, who are taking time away from their own loved ones to protect us as a society. Have some respect for the people who are trying to keep Alberta safe."
'Anti-Canadian, anti-Albertan to do this'
Sundberg said the arguments pushed against government regulations and direction don't change anything.
"If you don't believe the science, newsflash, the Earth is round," he said.
"There is no vaccine. There is a lot of science that needs to be analyzed here and it's incredibly cavalier and irresponsible and anti-Canadian and anti-Albertan to do this."
And U of C criminologist Hardcastle adds the pandemic could be far from over.
"There are concerns about a second wave. There are concerns if we just resume societal activities that we could potentially overwhelm hospitals. People can be asymptomatic for quite a number of days, so there is that risk of community transmission," she said.
- Watch gym owner Lee Mein explain why he plans to reopen his facility without following required protocols, in the video below.
With files from Colleen Underwood and CBC Calgary News at 6
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