This story has been amended since first posting to add a statement from the Ministry of Health.
A group of parents whose kids play sports at a private North Shore club are calling offside over club rules that bar teens from participating unless they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.
“It’s basically stopped the children from playing any sports or activities,” said Ken Berry, whose 12-year-old son plays hockey at West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Country Club.
Berry said the move is unnecessary as youth sports for those 21 and under are exempt from vaccination requirements under the provincial health order.
“It’s damaging the kids,” he said. “It’s hard to understand why they would go to this extent.”
Berry said he has not had his own son vaccinated because he still has questions about the vaccine, despite it being approved as safe for those 12 and older.
Public sports and recreation programs for teens on the North Shore do not require that youth be vaccinated to participate.
Two private sports clubs requiring youth vaccination
But at least two private clubs on the North Shore – Hollyburn and North Shore Winter Club – have informed members they are putting more stringent vaccine passports in place, requiring them for all staff, contractors and members over 12 years old.
In a recent letter to members, the chair of the board that runs Hollyburn wrote the board is united in its approach, which is “fully supported by legal opinion.”
The letter goes on to note the “hardline decision” has had consequences for the club, including losing 10 per cent of staff and some members of the minor hockey program for youth to other leagues.
“We are being asked to reduce or freeze dues for those who have chosen to not be vaccinated. We may face legal challenges from unvaccinated members regarding access,” the letter states.
Jade Yang is another member of the club who isn’t happy with the club’s stance on youth vaccination requirements.
Her son plays hockey at Hollyburn, as well as taking part in swimming and tennis at the club.
Yang said she was told her son would also no longer be able to participate in hockey if he didn’t get vaccinated. Yang said her son has received one dose of the vaccine but she’s hesitant to get a second dose, because of underlying medical issues.
Now her son is upset because he’s being forced to leave teammates he’s been with for years, she said.
Betsy Chen is another club member not happy with the decision. Chen said her 15-year-old hasn’t been vaccinated and hasn’t registered for sports at the club this fall.
Berry said the club has also refused to consider a freeze on expensive membership dues.
Berry said he’s talked to the chief executive officer of the club. “She said the board is not willing to budge,” he said.
Legal challenge considered
Berry and Yang said they and other impacted families aren’t ruling out a legal challenge.
Under the provincial health order, youth aged 12 through 21 are exempt from having to provide proof of vaccination to take part in sports activities.
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Health said the exemptions for youth have been provided to support youth programs continuing to function “without barriers, as these programs are very important for child health and development.”
The ministry also recognizes that “parents play an important role in vaccination of their children,” according to the statement.
In response to questions about whether private clubs are permitted to set additional vaccine passport requirements, the ministry stated, "Businesses have always been able to control who comes into their place of business and set rules for entry. If they do intend to issue a proof of vaccination requirement, they will need to undertake the proper due diligence, including the operational and legal implications of their decision."
Tom Oberti, president of the West Vancouver Minor Hockey Association, said his group is following the rules exempting youth set out in the public health order.
Public youth sports following PHO requirements
As a community group operating out of a public rink “we feel it important to allow kids to participate in sports,” said Oberti, adding the public health officer “probably has good reason to exempt youth from the passport requirement in this context.”
Between 89 and 93 per cent of youth aged 12-17 on the North Shore have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and between 79 and 84 per cent have received a second dose, according to B.C.'s Centre for Disease Control.
Under B.C.'s "mature minor consent" laws, teens do not need their parents' permission to get vaccinated, if they choose.
Neither Hollyburn Country Club nor North Shore Winter Club management responded to a request for comment.