At least four rodeos throughout Alberta say the government has granted them exemptions to the public health rule that states alcohol service must end at 10 p.m. — a move that has frustrated bar owners and event organizers subject to the new restriction.
On Friday, the Alberta government announced that restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs and nightclubs, as well as events, will be required to end alcohol service at 10 p.m. in order to slow transmission of COVID-19. Cases have been growing exponentially in Alberta, driven by the more infectious delta variant.
The Airdrie Pro Rodeo, Benalto Fair and Stampede, Daines Ranch Pro Rodeo and Ponoka Stampede all posted on social media this weekend that they are considered "outdoor special events" by Alberta Health Services and that liquor sales will continue until 2 a.m. local time.
While the Airdrie rodeo suggested patrons bring masks for bar service and said social distancing will apply inside facilities, both the Daines Rodeo and Ponoka Stampede posted that masks will not be required. The events feature either indoor saloons or dance halls. Masks are currently mandatory in all indoor public spaces in the province.
Other events in the province have been rescheduled or changed venues due to the new rules, including some dance parties and drag shows scheduled for Calgary Pride week.
CBC News contacted Alberta Health on Saturday to ask why some rodeos were granted exemptions and not other venues or events — at the time, Calgary Pride said no indoor or outdoor events associated with the festival had been granted exemptions.
On Sunday, Alberta Health responded to say that it had granted exemptions to the Ponoka, Airdrie and Cochrane rodeos — and that it had now granted exemptions to venues hosting Calgary Pride events. It did not say the Daines and Benalto events were granted exemptions, despite posts by those organizations on social media.
Hot Mess, which has hosted LGBTQ+ dance parties in Calgary for nearly a decade, said it received a last-minute exemption late Saturday night, hours after CBC News had asked Alberta Health why it had granted exemptions to some events and not others.
Alberta Health said it's not a new decision to grant exemptions from public health rules to select once-a-year events and that those exemptions are granted "due to the event's importance to the local economy and community."
A spokesperson said that the current exemptions apply only to open-air events and that mask requirements continue to apply indoors.
Sean Thomas Stewart, co-founder of Hot Mess, said they had scrambled to move Sunday's event to a new outdoor venue and an hours-earlier start after the new rules were announced.
"Without having any insight into how and why the province made that call for some events and not for others, it's hard not to take it personally," Stewart said before the exemption was granted.
"I, and I think the rest of the LGBTQ+ community in Calgary, would be very eager to have the province take a second look at what they are making exceptions for."
Elliot Rae Cormier, Calgary Pride's development manager, had questioned on Saturday afternoon what led to the province's decision to immediately grant exemptions to rodeo events. Cormier confirmed Pride's exemption came in after 10 p.m. on Saturday.
"I'm just really curious what factors led to that decision," Cormier said. "I am concerned for smaller businesses, smaller venues and local artists … who are now having to shift. There has been a lot of financial uncertainty."
We've done absolutely everything in our power to make our space as safe as possible, and we're still going to be penalized … it's a helpless and demoralizing feeling. - Katy Ingraham, owner of Fleish in Edmonton.
Katy Ingraham, owner of Fleisch bar and delicatessen in Edmonton and co-founder of the Edmonton Independent Hospitality Community, says her establishment has taken a cautious approach throughout the pandemic by requiring masking. It didn't reopen indoor dining before putting a mandatory vaccination policy in place.
She spent the entire day on Friday on the phone with various provincial health officials and departments, as well as her legislative member, attempting to obtain an exemption to the liquor curfew based on the bar's vaccine requirement. As of Sunday, she still hadn't received a response.
"My thought was that it would also set a precedent that if we were able to get that exemption, more businesses might follow suit and implement vaccine policies," Ingraham said.
But she was told, over and over, that it was outside of AHS's jurisdiction to grant exemptions.
Ingraham said she was furious when she saw rodeos were able to obtain an exemption from AHS after she was stonewalled.
The bar portion of the establishment opened just three weeks ago and was set to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. each night — now they'll have to cut back on staff.
"We've done absolutely everything in our power to make our space as safe as possible, and we're still going to be penalized for that while events like this can go on and receive exemptions? It's a helpless and demoralizing feeling," she said.
Jordan Sorrenti, owner of Paddy's Barbecue and Brewery in Calgary, said he'd like to see the province require vaccination to dine indoors at restaurants or bars rather than shut them down early.
"What they're doing by closing the bars down at 10 o'clock is they're picking on the young crowd, who they understand are the under-vaccinated, but they're penalizing all of the restaurants for it which is just not fair," he said, noting sales go down as case numbers climb.
"I'm kind of upset, because all of the staff that we worked so hard to bring back are going to get laid off again."
Premier Jason Kenney said Friday that he recognizes the new measures will be disruptive to the hospitality industry, but said they were necessary to protect the health-care system.