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Sports Montreal gym owner tired of police visits during pandemic

00:45  23 april  2021
00:45  23 april  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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Firas Zahabi is not one to back down from a fight, so when police visited his gym for the 16th time in the past year — and the third time in one day — he decided to take a stand.

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Zahabi has owned Montreal’s Tristar Gym since 2008, where he has trained some of the top mixed martial arts stars from around the world, including former UFC welterweight champion Georges-St-Pierre. The gym is located on the top floor of a nondescript, three-storey industrial building on Ferrier St. off Décarie Blvd.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, Zahabi says the premises have been visited regularly by police in response to complaints from neighbours, presumably to verify whether the gym was conforming to public health regulations. Yet according to Zahabi, no fines were ever issued.

A couple of weeks ago, Zahabi hit his limit.

“They came three times in one day, which I found to be excessive,” he said. “People are starting to think I’m running a crime ring. I’m a business. I normally train children and family members. I don’t want the reputation that I’m (Mexican drug lord) El Chapo. There’s nothing illegal going on at the gym.

“The officers know Tristar Gym. We’re a famous, popular gym with many world-class fighters and champions.”

Zahabi says his gym is closed to regular classes but he and his team continue to offer private training for up to two people at a time, as permitted under the current regulations.

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“Every gym in Montreal is doing this,” he said, “yet they’re fixated on us. Maybe it’s because one of our neighbours keeps calling (the police).”

When on April 9 the police came for the third time that day, Zahabi refused to open the door. There were several instructors and athletes inside, many of whom have bedrooms on the premises.

“Police were upset we weren’t opening the door,” he said. “The officer knocked and was yelling and banging, trying to intimidate us. We’re fighters, we’re not intimidated. I said to the officers, ‘When you have a search warrant, I’ll open the door. If you don’t, I don’t have to, legally.’ I was telling them nicely.”

The situation dragged on for hours, with police waiting outside and Zahabi and some of the others eventually going up to the roof.

“I said, ‘Why are you not leaving?’ ” he recounted. “They said, ‘Because of suspicion.'”

According to Zahabi, police suspected he was conducting classes on the premises, so he encouraged them to wait until 6 p.m., when his Friday classes are normally scheduled, to see if anyone showed up. Police waited five hours, but no one came.

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Zahabi says the issue appears to be resolved for the time being. He had a conversation with one of his neighbours, who “told me it would never happen again.”

He also spoke with Montreal police, who said they put a note in his file.

“If they get a call, they will call me directly. I’m going to give them access whenever they want. It doesn’t have to be a show. I don’t want police at the place all the time.”

Zahabi doesn’t blame anyone for the situation, which he chalks up to everyone being stressed due to COVID-19. But he does take issue with the Quebec government’s regulations.

“Why is the mall open and gyms are closed?” he asked. “If it’s truly a pandemic, then close the mall.

“People are scared for the elderly, I get it. But we’re smart enough to go to the gym, train people and keep away from the elderly. I’d love to challenge (the government) on these protocols.”

Montreal police does not comment on specific files in order to respect confidentiality, but spokesperson Véronique Comtois said that when police receive a complaint to 911, they will verify the complaint.

tdunlevy@postmedia.com

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usr: 7
This is interesting!