Police responded to a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates at the YMCA swimming pool in Vanderhoof Friday, Feb. 4. The pool was closed for the remainder of the day starting at 5:30 p.m., and resumed regular operations the following day.
District of Vanderhoof CAO Gerald Pinchbeck said on Monday that he’s thankful all patrons were physically unharmed. He said the YMCA and its pool staff followed security and safety protocols, and safely evacuated patrons from the facility.
Protesters were in the lobby and did not make their way onto the pool deck.
“I can only imagine the emotional impact it has had on our patrons,” Pinchbeck said.
“This has had a profound demoralizing impact on staff. It’s disappointing to see a group of people who think it’s okay to take out their frustrations with provincial health orders on the young staff and children and families at the Vanderhoof Aquatic Centre who are just trying to enjoy their time together. These individuals have victimized people who have nothing to do with provincial health orders and were only expecting to have fun in a safe environment.”
He said the district will be looking into the matter further with the RCMP and will also review enhanced security protocols with the YMCA as a result of the incident.
“It was extremely disappointing that this group of individuals felt the need to make families and young workers feel unsafe and intimidated in a place that is designed for rest, relaxation, and fun,” Pinchbeck said.
He added the district respects the right of any person to peacefully protest and express their opinions in public spaces.
“However, we do not condone nor tolerate the actions of this group of individuals — the right to protest ends where it results in intimidation and threats against other persons.”
Pinchbeck said the YMCA will be meeting with affected staff to ensure that they receive appropriate support to manage any impacts to their mental health — calling the safety of patrons and staff a “top priority.”
“I would encourage these individuals to seriously reflect on the impacts their aggressive behaviour has had on the staff and patrons at the Aquatic Centre, and to reconsider how they wish to protest provincial health orders going forward,” he said.
North District RCMP spokesperson Madonna Saunderson confirmed in a statement Monday, Feb. 7 that approximately 12 people protested at the Vanderhoof pool on Friday. She said police continued to monitor the situation.
“At this time we have no reason to believe there is any danger to the staff at the pool. The protest had been described as lawful and peaceful.”
RCMP could not confirm whether protesters gained access to the facility without their vaccine cards.
With a file from Aman Parhar
Editor’s note: This report was updated on Monday, Feb. 7 at 2:20 p.m.