Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for the federal government to exempt foreign professional athletes from the mandatory 14-day quarantine required of anyone entering the country.
Kenney cited a similar exemption made by the U.S. government last week in his request. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Tuesday that Edmonton is one of 10 cities in contention to be a hub city when play resumes.
“On May 22, 2020, the Government of the United States, through Acting Homeland Security Secretary (Chad) Wolf, allowed for an exemption that enabled the entry of certain foreign professional athletes, their staff and league leadership into the United States,” Kenney wrote in his letter. “Such an exemption from the Canadian government would be necessary to enable the (Oilers Entertainment Group’s) bid to play host to the NHL playoffs. The Government of Alberta believes there are effective strategies in place to mitigate any risk for our province if such an exception was granted.”
Currently, anyone not deemed essential travelling into Canada from another country must self-isolate for 14 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed to non-essential travel until at least June 21.
Trudeau was asked about allowing the NHL to be exempt from these restrictions during a press conference on May 3 and said more discussions would need to be had before a decision would be made.
“I think it’s a question we’ll have to look into,” Trudeau said. “Certainly at a strict minimum, anyone who arrives from another country will have to follow all the rules of quarantine in an extremely strict manner, but we’re not there yet in our discussions with the NHL.
“We recognize that it’s a possibility, but it depends on an enormous amount of things, and I don’t want to speculate on this until there’s more discussion.”
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, penned a letter to Bettman Wednesday with her approved guidelines that would allow the province to host NHL games. The guidelines include details on how to handle pre-travel checks, quarantine upon arrival to the province, accommodations, transportation, practices, games, media and facilities.
“If the NHL, its staff and players indicate they would be able to comply with these guidelines, I would support an event of this statues to enable all participants in these NHL hockey games to stay safe and healthy,” Dr. Hinshaw wrote. “As Alberta welcomes NHL players and staff, I am confident in the capabilities of our public health system and health care capacity to address any arising need.”
Edmonton is one of three Canadian cities in the running to be a hub city for the return of the NHL, but deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league can’t come to Canada unless the federal government creates an exemption for teams to enter the country.
“If we’re not able to really get an interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room … we won’t be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub,” Daly said on a conference call Tuesday. “So we’re faced with having to find a solution to that. And hopefully we can.”
The Oilers and the City of Edmonton have been very vocal about their desire to host the NHL at Rogers Place and the surrounding Ice District, which opened in 2016. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson wrote a letter to Bettman last week in support of the plan and to explain how the city can accommodate up to 12 teams if needed.
“As Edmonton’s number-one priority is the health and safety of its residents, we recognize that the NHL has placed health and safety as a top priority for the return of the hockey season. And we understand that OEG (Oilers Entertainment Group) has been working closely with our provincial government on a detailed health framework and protocol that prescribe conditions under which games hosted by Edmonton would take place,” Iveson’s letter said.
“Ice District’s facilities and proximity to downtown hotels minimize the need for participants’ movement between the arena and their accommodations. In addition, the City of Edmonton is working closely with OEG on an agreement to use our high-quality civic recreational facilities, currently closed to Edmontonians during the pandemic, where NHL teams could practice and train safely while in Edmonton.”
The NHL isn’t expected to make a decision on which hub cities will host games until it has a clearer timeline of when games can be played.