Organizers of 'anti-lockdown' rodeo plead not guilty to violating health act, vow to hold more events

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Hundreds attended a rodeo near Bowden, Alta., on May 1 and 2 in defiance of public health restrictions and despite surging COVID-19 cases. (Justin Pennell/CBC - image credit)
Hundreds attended a rodeo near Bowden, Alta., on May 1 and 2 in defiance of public health restrictions and despite surging COVID-19 cases. (Justin Pennell/CBC - image credit)

The organizers of a rodeo earlier this month near Bowden, Alta., to protest provincial COVID-19 restrictions pleaded not guilty on Monday to violating Alberta's Public Health Act by holding the event.

The "anti-lockdown" rodeo held on private land along Highway 2A about 30 kilometres south of Red Deer drew hundreds of spectators — mostly unmasked — on May 1 and 2 in contravention of the current restrictions against public gatherings.

On Wednesday Alberta Health Services confirmed that it is aware of one positive case of COVID-19 directly linked to the rodeo event.

"In some cases symptoms may be mild and individuals may not seek out COVID-19 testing. COVID-19 can also be spread asymptomatically, and an individual may not know they are spreading the virus," said spokesman James Wood in an email.

"This is why it is imperative that all Albertans continue to follow CMOH orders to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus to others."

Rodeo organizers Ty and Gail Northcott were charged with violations under Section 73(1) of the Public Health Act.

An Alberta Health Services spokesperson said inspectors notified organizers in writing prior to the rodeo that the event would break public health restrictions if it proceeded, and that AHS was considering its legal options.

WATCH | See how some in the rodeo industry reacted to the May event:

Ty Northcott said on his Facebook page Monday that their lawyer entered the not guilty plea in a virtual court hearing.

"So now we wait for the crown to produce some evidence as to what there case is about. Next court case is June 21, bring it on!"

Northcott said plans are in the works for future rallies.

Attendees at the Bowden-area event told CBC News they believed the pandemic is a "scamdemic" and that COVID-19 is a "flu" that is not serious.

WATCH | Alberta rodeo crowd defies public health orders in early May:

To date, 2,152 Albertans have died from COVID, and as of May 18 there were 691 patients in hospital with the virus.

Alberta is now seeing the highest number of ICU admissions in the province's history, which is putting a significant strain on the health-care system, officials say.

On Monday, there were about 240 people in ICU. About three-quarters were COVID-19 patients.

Alberta has a case rate of 453 per 100,000 people, compared with 169 per 100,000 in Ontario and 170 per 100,000 nationally.