These fitness clubs thought they could stay open under new COVID-19 restrictions. It turns out they were wrong

Toronto BJJ, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy, has continued to operate under the assumption that Provincial Sports Organizations don't have to shutter their doors under modified Stage 2 restrictions for Ontario. The facility closed its doors Thursday after learning that's not the case.

Clubs classified as Provincial Sports Organizations in Ontario say the rules are unclear

Toronto BJJ, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy, has continued to operate under the assumption that Provincial Sports Organizations don't have to shut their doors under modified Stage 2 restrictions. The facility was forced to close its doors Thursday after learning that's not the case. (CBC)

Despite enhanced provincial COVID-19 restrictions forcing the closure of gyms and fitness centres in Toronto last week — the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy Toronto BJJ didn't shut its doors until Thursday evening.

"You may have noticed that we are still open, and wonder how that could be?" the academy said in a Facebook post earlier this week about the province's move to put Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa back in a modified Stage 2 due to spiking case counts. The restrictions came into effect Friday, Oct. 9.

In an interview earlier Thursday, the academy's director Joshua Rapport explained that it could keep operating because it's a private sports club and is categorized as a Provincial Sports Organization (PSO). Rapport said PSOs are allowed to stay open if they follow certain safety protocols. 

But Toronto Public Health says that's actually not the case. 

Scott Sullivan, acting director for Toronto's Municipal Licensing and Standards division, said PSOs were allowed to stay open under the previous version of Stage 2, not the recently modified one. 

Toronto BJJ director Joshua Rapport says his Jiu-Jitsu studio had remained open with smaller classes since it was a private sports club. He says no one had told his studio that modified Stage 2 regulations in Ontario were different than the original Stage 2 rules. (CBC)

"Under the modified Stage 2 [regulations] that Toronto is now under, activities in which participants are likely to result in persons coming within two metres of each other are prohibited," Sullivan said. 

And later Thursday evening, according to a Facebook post from the facility's head instructor Jorge Britto, Toronto BJJ was forced to close. 

"Toronto BJJ shut down by City of Toronto bylaw officers despite our permission to operate under the umbrella of our Provincial Sports Organization," Britto wrote.

"Unreasonable regulations with zero evidence or data that can justify the recent closures." 

Other clubs confused about rules

Toronto BJJ isn't the only fitness club to have incorrectly thought it could keep operating. Apparent confusion around the modified Stage 2 restrictions in Ontario has led multiple Toronto sports facilities to keep their doors open when they weren't supposed to. 

United Boxing Club, which is also classified as a PSO, released a statement this week indicating that it was allowed to remain open.

"As we now enter a 'Modified Stage 2' as a Sanctioned Provincial Sport Organization (PSO) approved by Boxing Ontario, we are happy to announce that for the time being United Boxing Club will stay operational," the company wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. 

Gymnastics Ontario also released a statement Wednesday saying it's understanding was that clubs in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region could continue competitive training if facilities didn't exceed 10 people per room. 

But in a statement to CBC Toronto, Toronto Public Health confirmed that — at least in Toronto — gymnastics should be completely shut down. 

Can Peel and Ottawa PSOs stay open? 

What remains unclear is whether or not clubs that fall under the umbrella of PSOs in Peel Region and Ottawa can stay open. 

That question was posed to Health Minister Christine Elliott at a news conference Thursday. She didn't give a specific answer either way. 

"For anyone who has concerns about whether their enterprise is caught up in these restrictions, they are always advised to speak to their medical officer of health in their area, or to certainly direct it to the Ministry of Health," Elliott said. 

CBC Toronto has reached out to the province for further clarification but hasn't yet received a response. 

What Elliott did recommend was for people to work out at home when possible. You can listen to those comments in the video below:

Stay within own region, work out at home, says Ontario health minister

1 year ago
Duration 1:04
To reduce spread of COVID-19 in Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott is asking residents to stay within their own regions and take up home workouts instead of going to gyms. 1:04

Dance studios demand they be allowed to reopen 

Meanwhile, owners of dance studios are pressuring the province to allow them to open, saying they're not the same as gyms.

Even if dancers are distanced and masked, classes aren't allowed anymore under the modified Stage 2 rules. 

"I think we're being unfairly grouped together with fitness clubs and adult-centric activities," said Maureen Morkill, who owns The Dance Corps in Mississauga. 

Morkill noted that many dance studios should fall under activities and sports for children, which have not been affected by the revised closures. 

Morkill is one of nearly 20,000 people who have now signed an online petition directed at Premier Doug Ford, demanding that what they call the "unfair targeting" of dance studios in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region be stopped. 

"There is no reason why kids can train in hockey, soccer, martial arts, gymnastics, cheer etc, but not dance," the petition's online description reads. 

In a message to dance studio owners on Thursday, Ford said he will look into whether they might be able to reopen, but made no promises either way.  

"I'll tell all the dance studios: I'm onto it, I'll ask. I will drill down for you because I think it's important," he said. 

"But at the end of the day I have to listen to the docs ... there has to be balance here." 

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp


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