Angry over trail closure, lone North Bay protestor calls for medical officer of health to resign
NORTH BAY -- It was a protest that gained a lot of social media attention, but Monday's rally outside the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit attracted just one protestor.
Snowmobiler Steven Godfrey, from Ahmic Harbour, was the lone protestor walking up and down the sidewalk in front of the health unit for two hours.
Undeterred, Godfrey called for the resignation of Dr. Jim Chirico, the health unit's medical officer of health, for closing snowmobile trails and trails on Crown Land in the health unit's district.
"We want him to step down," he said. "He has no clue what snowmobiling is all about. He just thinks that people climb on a snowmobile and go from A to B."
The rally, organized to protest the decision to close all snowmobile trails in the district, gained tremendous support on Facebook, but it never panned out. Godfrey said the closure is unfair.
"Our COVID case numbers are dropping," he said. "Yet, Sudbury's numbers are going up and up and up and they're keeping everything open up there."
'You can't pick and choose'
Godfrey has been snowmobiling for 38 years and he said he has never seen the trails closed before, other than due to weather conditions.
"You can't pick and choose what to close," he said. "You either have to shut everything down or none."
Godfrey was disappointed people didn't come out to protest the health unit's move.
"I've already got $400 invested in permits and $3,500 in engine work done on one of my snowmobiles and guess what? I can't even take it out," said Godfrey.
The health unit closed the trails last Thursday, saying travellers from other areas are visiting to use the local trail system and not physical distancing.
Godfrey is a widower. His wife died in 2019 and says snowmobiling has helped him with anxiety.
He is now worried new snowmobilers will begin to take risks and use frozen lakes to get out with trails closed and worries for their safety.
Health unit statement
In response to the protest, the health unit issued the following statement:
"In accordance with the provisions of the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act, and the Regulations thereunder, specifically Stay-at-Home-Order, and the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, and the Regulations thereunder, specifically Rules for Areas in Stage 1, the medical officer of health for the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit deems it reasonable and necessary to close all Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs’ (OFSC) trails and trails utilizing Crown Land in the Health Unit district effective Jan. 21, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. throughout the entire district served by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit in order to decrease or eliminate the risk to community health presented by COVID -19.
"The Province of Ontario is facing a health crisis. We have been ordered to stay at home and leave only for essential reasons. The stay-at-home order must be followed if we are to slow the spread of this deadly virus and save lives. While these enhanced closures are frustrating, they are temporary.
"In contrast to not being able to snowmobile, skate or toboggan during the stay-at-home order, what would truly be intolerable is losing a loved one due to a COVID-19 outbreak or not having room in the ICU when a loved one really needs it, having a loved one in hospital due to COVID-19 and not being able to visit them, and not being able to visit close family members in long-term care. We all need to work together and act now to save lives."