We’re pretty disappointed and discouraged to announce this, but we have to cancel Actif Epica 2021. Racers already registered will all be refunded the full registration amount that you paid through Webscorer ($50, $110, or $160).
Summary of our decision making process:
- Pandemic restrictions on events have become tighter since we went live with registration, even after we were already in a province-wide Critical Red Level.
- The recent Springs Church court judgement and interpretation of the law was a huge surprise to us, ruling that more than 5 people, each in their own separate cars, grouping within a large proximity for a common purpose was a punishable offence. We simply didn’t foresee things getting this strict after we were already at a critical level and already had comprehensive restrictions in place.
- Though we’ve incurred some expenses already, if we cancel the event now we can afford to refund everyone their full registration. If we don’t cancel now we’ll quickly incur more costs and be looking at undesirable financial decisions.
- Based on the current provincial pandemic data we have little confidence restrictions will look much different on race weekend in February, even if things ebb and flow until then.
- Cancelling now is a better option than hoping for the best and, in our estimation, the very likely chance that we’ll have to cancel closer to race weekend assuming a high likelihood of similar restrictions then.
In short, what killed the event for us was a provincial court ruling this weekend. Now for the longer explanation:
Sorry for the short book, but you deserve a full explanation. For those who are unaware, there is a church here in Winnipeg that, last week, held virtual services in their parking lot. People parked their cars in the lot and watched a service taking place on a stage and/or large screen while listening along through their car stereos. They were told to stay in their cars the entire time.
A few days ago the church and its leaders were, in total, fined over $32,000 for holding a public gathering of more than 5 people. They took the fines to court and argued that the drive-in services were not public gatherings as defined in the new pandemic restrictions, that they did not pose a health threat, and said they were complying with all restrictions.
A judge has now ruled that the services are in fact a gathering and contravene the current laws because “it has persons. They are grouping. They are in general proximity to each other, and they have assembled for a common purpose or reason.”
How does this apply to us? When we opened registration to Actif Epica 2021 we were under the Pandemic Response Level Orange which allowed us some room to make adjustments to our event and confidently carry on with it.
Days after we opened registration the province moved to Level Red but still allowed for one-time outdoor events with group sizes limited to cohorts of 5. Between cohorts people would need to socially distance. Having now hit the highest, most restrictive level we felt with a few added measures the race was still very doable; we could make sure that no more than 5 racers had direct, sustained contact with one another during the event and would have to maintain proper social distance from everyone else before and at the start of the race, during the event, and at the finish. We were prepared for roving and checkpoint volunteers to strictly monitor this.
By mid-November the Level Red rules had changed and now outdoor gatherings and activities were limited to 5 physically distanced people (no cohorts). Still, we hoped that wasn’t a problem. We’d stagger our starts so that no more than 4 racers plus a race director would be at the start line at a time (and each of our 5 separate race distances and disciplines are already started hours apart). Everyone would have to maintain proper social distancing at the start and throughout the race. Surely with our 80 or so anticipated racers spread across a 60km-200km course and 24 hours, and socially distancing if they happened upon each other, they wouldn’t all be deemed a single gathering or activity. The City of Winnipeg Special Events department had given us the go-ahead in early November and the provincial Emergency Operations Centre that is specifically reviewing events while health orders are in place had a detailed description of our race and our pandemic protocols and we hadn’t received push-back from either even after the Level Red rule changes.
However, we also assumed it would be fine for racers to remain in their cars or elsewhere nearby as they awaited an alert from race HQ, likely by text, that it was now their time to make their way to the start line where they would line up in designated boxes marked on the ground more than 2 meters from one another, before starting their race. On course they’d have to maintain proper distance from all other racers and from checkpoint volunteers (who would also be distanced from everyone else in facilities that they had to themselves).
The judge’s ruling prevents us from even implementing those most stringent plans. Now, just having more than 5 people (racers and partners who drove the racers to the start) in the same general proximity is against the law and punishable with hefty fines. Having even 3 racers show up at the finish at the same time where they each have a partner waiting in a car nearby for them is punishable too. Having 5 racers end up in the same general proximity to one another (which seems to mean even in the same very large parking lot) at a checkpoint with just 1 volunteer, even while all studiously maintaining proper social distancing as they pass through, is punishable. 6 spectators each in their own cars, lining the same road, is punishable.
We simply never imagined that the rules would become this restrictive. It’s impossible for us to make sure there aren’t more than 5 people connected to the event in the same general proximity at some point during the race, if that general proximity means within thousands of square feet as is the case with the church. Beyond that, and beyond the fines we can’t afford to incur, we don’t want to create any animosity with the public. If this recent court case and other events increase the public’s sensitivity to any perceived breach of the pandemic public gathering laws we don’t want racers wearing bib numbers and clearly belonging to a current event to be harassed, and we don’t want to give our wonderful sporting community a bad reputation, even if we think it would be unjustified. If someone takes a picture of 6 spectators each in their own car lined up on a street cheering on a racer as they pass by and shares that image on social media with a negative caption we’ve now invited criticism (or worse) to the race and larger community.
We realize things could change again between now and race weekend. Maybe restrictions will ease a bit. Maybe the judge’s ruling will be overturned. Heck, maybe our race is under the radar enough that we could hold it safely (safety is of course our largest single concern no matter if the laws are relaxed) and maybe we could carry on and not see any negative push-back. Unfortunately we just don’t have enough confidence in what the next couple of months will look like at this point and we can’t keep committing time and money (some more expenses come due soon that, if incurred, would prevent us from offering full refunds), and we can’t keep getting new registrants excited about an event that suddenly looks like it could be in real jeopardy.
Plainly speaking, this sucks. We put this race on as a labour of love and enjoy giving back to a community that has given us so much, and especially this year we wanted to be a positive force during a trying time. We’re sorry to get you excited about something we’re now deciding isn’t feasible. Please know we did our due diligence, working with facilities, insurers, medics, local governments, and other authorities to confirm that we were good to go. It truly seemed to us that the province was already at its highest, most restrictive level and we were ‘pleased’ to see that we could comply with the rules before this weekend really caught us off guard and drove home how the rules can change and be reinterpreted almost daily.
We’ll still be out there riding and running. Honestly the outdoor training conditions have been great recently. We’ll still, most days, have naturally positive attitudes and know that these odd times will be over eventually. And we’ll look forward to future events. For now, wear your Actif Epica masks with pride as you create your own personal fitness challenges and meet them. We’ll leave most of the content up on our site so that you have a challenge to hopefully look forward to in the future.
We won’t run a formal virtual event (we’ve looked into it and we have some liability and logistics concerns) but we’ll post the revised in-town loop that we planned as a worst case scenario course. If you’re local maybe you’ll challenge yourself to run or ride that at your own discretion, on your own time. If you’re not local hopefully you’ll find your own challenge. We’d be very happy to post on our blog any riding or running reports you share with us. Tweet us @actifepica and we’ll retweet. We’d be thrilled if our site maintained the feel of community even as we lose another event on the calendar. Maybe we’ll even bump into you out on the roads and trails. That would be cool.
Stay healthy and stay safe.
(and on behalf of Co-Directors Deanna and Dan)