Cineplex CEO calls COVID-19 cinema closures in Alberta 'devastating' for employees

·2 min read

TORONTO — The president and CEO of Canadian movie theatre giant Cineplex says the company is "extremely frustrated and disappointed" Alberta is keeping cinemas closed amid the current COVID-19 protocols.

Ellis Jacob has released a statement saying it's "devastating news to the more than 1,000 Albertans" who work at the company's 19 theatres in the province, all of whom are presently out of work.

Jacob argues that cinemas are a safer form of gathering than other indoor venues, such as restaurants and big box retailers.

He adds the Alberta government is keeping movie theatres closed "for reasons they either can't justify or just won't disclose."

This week Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro paused the province's plan to move to the next stage of reopening and lift health restrictions tied to COVID-19, citing rising case numbers.

The move means movie theatres, museums and other entertainment venues will remain closed under Step 2 of the province's health measures.

But some other businesses, including restaurants, pubs and bars, can open for in-person service, with restrictions.

"The facts are very straight forward. There have been zero known cases of COVID-19 transmission in any movie theatre anywhere in the world," Jacob said in the statement.

He cited a host of health and safety protocols in place at cinemas, including reserved seating with physical distancing and controlled guest counts. Patrons also sit facing forward in a cinema instead of at each other, like they would in a restaurant, and are encouraged to remain silent while wearing masks in large auditoriums with high ceilings.

"Cineplex has a proven track record of operating our theatres safely for our employees and guests, and we, and all Canadians, just want to get back to that," Jacob said.

Cineplex is among many arts companies across Canada who are upset their venues have to remain closed in various regions while restaurants and other businesses are allowed to operate.

When cinemas in Canada were running during the first and second waves, there were zero reported instances of transmission or outbreaks associated with the screenings, according to the Motion Theatre Association of Canada, which represents the exhibitors behind more than 3,000 movie screens nationwide.

In Vancouver, the Rio Theatre got around the rules by rebranding as a sports bar nearly two months ago, which has allowed the venue to be open with 125 people socially distanced indoors.

British Columbia officials plan to meet this week with arts organizations who feel the restrictions on their sector they feel are unfair, hypocritical and lack scientific evidence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press