Nova Scotia

Dangerous game? Bridge Studio perplexed by police investigation over COVID-19 rules

A tip to Halifax Regional Police sparked an investigation that is baffling a Halifax business and leaving dozens of card players temporarily without their favourite game.

Tipster told police the card players were not following COVID-19 enforcement rules

Gerry Callaghan and Kathie Macnab are the only ones in the Bridge Studio these days, after someone called police and questioned their safety practices. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

A Halifax company that hosts bridge games has been forced to fold 'em after a tip to Halifax Regional Police sparked an investigation over COVID-19 enforcement rules.

The Bridge Studio reopened at the end of August, much to the delight of its players. After months of playing online, they were eager to return to their social outings.

"We often refer to bridge as mental aerobics," said Kathie Macnab, an instructor.

"Considering the average age of the player here is like 70 years old, we've got a group of people who are gonna work really hard to keep everybody else safe."

But all that changed two weeks ago, when police called the Bridge Studio to say someone had complained they're not enforcing COVID-19 rules.

"I was sort of shocked in two points of view," said Gerry Callaghan, co-owner of the business. "One is who made the complaint — or why would they complain. And number two: I thought we were onside, obviously."

Callaghan says he immediately returned the call, but when police didn't reply, he figured the issue had been cleared up. Then last Thursday, two officers showed up at the door of the card club.

At issue, it appears, is whether the players should be able to move to different tables throughout their session to play other pairs.

"I was told that this was a verbal warning," said Callaghan. "If they come back, we're subject to a fine of up to $5,000."

New safety rules

For Callaghan, the issue was perplexing. He says he meticulously planned out how to reopen the business this summer as restrictions started to ease. 

Masks are now mandatory for players, each table has wipes and sanitizer spray, and they removed more than half the tables from the room, limiting the amount of players.

At the end of July, Callaghan submitted that plan to the government. A few days later, he received a reply detailing the rules around "social events, arts and culture events."

Since card games are a grey area, he assumed the government's response had them in the correct category.

The email said "you should have a plan in place for holding your event safely, but you do not need to submit it for government approval."

While some people have moved to playing online, Kathie Macnab says most of the seniors at the Bridge Studio prefer to be able to play in person. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

In emails shared with CBC, Callaghan further tried to clarify, and asked for a phone conversation or in-person meeting to discuss possible concerns about physical distancing.

A summer student followed up, and they exchanged emails and at least one phone call to discuss the plan. Trusting that he had followed all the rules, Callaghan says he reopened the club in good faith.

As recently as Sept. 1, the student wrote they had "full confidence" that the business could continue to operate safely.

'Safer' than the grocery store

But now, that's no longer in the cards. Callaghan says they had no choice but to close the Bridge Studio again after the warning from police.

He has resubmitted his business plan, in hopes that public health will approve it soon. A statement from the province says public health has not yet reviewed or approved it.

The business has a received a number of emails from shocked players who can't wrap their heads around why they were targeted by the tipster.

"A lot of people are quite upset," said Macnab. She says one player in her 80s said she "loved to come here, and literally felt safer, sitting in here playing bridge with people she knew ... than she feels going to a grocery store. We got a lot of people with a lot of the same sort of comments."

Halifax Regional Police confirmed they did investigate the business but no charges were laid. It says it has not shut down any business in the city over COVID-19 rules.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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