A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd this weekend. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd this weekend. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)

Central Alberta rodeo-rally defying restrictions ‘a slap in the face,’ says premier

Premier Jason Kenney says it was “disturbing” to see a large gathering of people at a rodeo in central Alberta.

This weekend, a big crowd attended the No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally, which took place just off of Highway 2 south of Bowden.

Day 1 of the rodeo took place Saturday – the event continued Sunday as well.

“There was laughter, singing, dancing and smiling faces everywhere you turned. There were families, friends and now acquaintances who shared in a monumental moment in history,” event organizer Northcott Rodeo Inc. said in a Facebook post.

“(Saturday) we broke records, we had fast times in the barrel racing, retired bull riders pulling the gear out for another eight-second adrenaline ride, but with the help of all of you we were also the first rodeo in over a year where normality wasn’t even questioned.”

Kenney called the event a “flagrant violation” of the province’s COVID-19 public health measures.

“We are all sick of this. We all want it to end. Thousands of Albertans are following the rules, sacrificing travel and social gatherings to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” he said on Twitter Sunday.

“Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, they are a slap in the face to everybody who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe.”

Kenney said he is personally angered and saddened to see people “selfishly put themselves ahead of others.”

“The reason we are at this critical stage of the pandemic in Alberta, with record high daily case counts and intensive care numbers, is precisely because too many Albertans are ignoring the rules we currently have in place,” said Kenney.

“If we do not begin to bend the curve, our health-care system could very well be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.”

Alberta Health Services said it is “considering” legal options in regards to the rodeo organizers.

In a statement sent Sunday morning, AHS said prior to the event inspectors spoke with, and provided written information to, organizers, notifying them that current CMOH orders prohibit businesses or entities from offering or providing exhibitions, sporting events, or sporting and performance competitions at this time.

“In addition, AHS Legal sent a letter to the organizers indicating that the event would be illegal if it were to proceed,” said AHS.

Earlier last week, the Bowden Agricultural Society notified Northcott Rodeo Inc. that the event was no longer welcome on its rodeo grounds. As a result, the event was moved to a property south of the town.

“It is disappointing that the organizers ignored this information and went ahead with their event, knowing it was a clear breach of the current public health restrictions,” said AHS.

“In addition, it is extremely concerning that people would knowingly put their fellow Albertans at risk by ignoring the restrictions, particularly with increasing cases and the subsequent pressure on our health-care system.”

No charges have been laid by the RCMP, but AHS is investigating.

Jeff Robson, Canadian Professional Rodeo Association general manager, said the CPRA is working with AHS, rodeo committees and other rodeo associations to bring about the return of the sport.

“As an organization, we are focused on the long-term good for rodeo, the celebration of our western heritage and getting back to doing what we all love as soon as it’s safely possible to do so,” said Robson.

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