Town programming paused due to liability issues

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Residents of Fort Frances were upset when several Town sponsored programs were put on pause a few weeks ago. Town officials say this is due to insurance compliance and for participant safety.

Recreation and Culture Manager Tyler Young says that many town recreation activities have been in violation of the town’s insurance policies.

There was some speculation on local Facebook pages that insurance policies for the Town had changed but Young says practices were simply not in line with required policies.

“Insurance requirements haven’t changed,” Young said. “The insurance requirements have always been in place but for whatever reason we just weren’t meeting them.”

Young discovered this while going through a review, he says.

“We were going through a bit of a review, and our insurance company asked me about certifications, the same way we do for our lifeguards,” he said. “I came into place under the assumption that we had them, because it’s industry standard that fitness programs have these certifications. That would include a certification from a recognized body in whatever discipline as well as first aid and CPR. So when this whole thing came to light, and a lot of thought and discussion, a lot of dialogue went into this when it first came to light. We did a lot of brainstorming and what this would look like, and for us one simple truth remains, we, as a corporation, were offering fitness programs that did not meet the standard for safety and risk.”

Once the Town was aware that programs were not meeting safety standards, maintaining them would constitute negligence on the part of The Town of Fort Frances, putting the Town at risk in the event of an accident or injury. This has impacted multiple programs at both the Sports Centre and the Fort Frances Senior Centre, where Yoga and Tai Chi have been affected. Patrons of the Aquafit program at the Sports Centre put forward a letter to Fort Frances Town Council on Monday night to protest the program’s closure. That letter was received with thanks and will be forwarded to the Community Services Executive Committee.

In hopes of offering an alternative, the Sports Centre is offering ‘Youfit’ which is a time for those who know the Aquafit exercises to do them on their own in the pool, but without a Town employee leading the classes. This time is offered in conjunction with lane swims. Young says the Town can’t offer the classes in the previous instructor-led format, without a trained instructor. None of the life guarding staff are trained to teach Aquafit classes and Young said the Town isn’t able to pay for that training.

The Aquafit patrons also expressed uncertainty around safety, with Youfit and lane swims taking place simultaneously. Young says that while it’s not ideal, with ongoing lifeguard shortages they are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

“We have been diligent in our approach, and have determined that having multiple programs simultaneously sharing pool space does not pose a safety risk,” Young said. “Scheduling multiple activities in the pool does occur in other pools, and in other municipalities, so again, this isn’t something unique to Fort Frances. I have spoken with the lifeguard team about this arrangement, prior to adding it to the schedule, and we are confident in our ability to guard this shared swim in a safe manner. Now, it goes without saying, having multiple programs in the pool simultaneously is not our ideal scenario–but, we believe that it will work, and it will help us prevent the loss of another program through attrition.”

The letter from the Aquafit patrons also says that participants would be willing to sign waivers like shinny hockey players are able to do, Young says the programs are different and a waiver wouldn’t be applicable in the same way.

“The difference is shinny hockey is a drop-in program. You’re dropping in and doing your thing. We give a safe environment and the waiver helps protect us. The difference with aqua fitness is that it’s instructor-led,” Young said. “So now there’s a greater onus of responsibility. If you come in to skate you do your own thing and that’s on you. But if I’m taking you through a workout I’m endangering you because I don’t know what I’m doing. If I’m putting you through a workout that’s putting undue stress on your limbs, your joints, your heart or whatever. A waiver in the fitness industry doesn’t trump certification.”

Another program impacted in the recent changes was indoor Pickleball in the Sports Centre auditorium. It was cancelled because the space is not equipped to host sports.

“The auditorium is not a gymnasium,” Young said. “Pickleball being a sporting activity places a lot of stress on the facility.”

The tape being used to mark the Pickleball court on the floor had also proven problematic. Other events in the space are cleared at the end of rental, but Pickleball lines were staying on the floor for the entire season, potentially inconveniencing other groups and damaging the newly installed floor.

“You’d have individuals coming in, renting this particular area and there would be neon green lines all over the place so the aesthetic wasn’t there,” Young said.

There are other aspects with the equipment in the space as well. Young added that the fire sprinklers, lights and other safety equipment are not caged as they would be in a gymnasium.

Young added is that allowing Pickleball to continue would be precedent-setting. He said that groups have asked to use the space for other sports like ball hockey and basketball which would also not be conducive to the space.

“If you’re saying ‘yes’ to Pickleball, how am I saying ‘no’ to the other and then suddenly, your auditorium is turning into a gym.”

The Town has allowances for Pickleball to take place on municipal tennis courts during the warmer seasons but Young has suggested that players look to local school gyms for a space to play in the winter.

Young wanted to emphasize that programs like Aquafit, yoga and Tai Chi at the Seniors Centre are not cancelled permanently.

“The important message is the programs are paused,” Young said. “We’ve paused them and we’re actively looking at ways to resume these programs… We have to do it in a way that’s safe for everyone and eliminates or at least reduces the risk for all involved.”