Mandatory mask debate escalates in Calgary city council as proposed bylaw expands to indoor spaces

Calgary city council heard a new proposal Monday asking for the implementation of a mandatory mask bylaw for all public indoor spaces and transit.

The initial report made to council on Monday proposed that face coverings must be worn only on transit vehicles, however, that has been expanded to encompass all public indoor spaces and vehicles effective Aug. 1.

It has not been voted on in council as of Tuesday, July 21.

Read more: Calgary city council begins discussions on face mask policies amid COVID-19 pandemic

On Tuesday, Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) chief Tom Sampson and strategic services manager with Calgary Community Standards Kay Choi presented the new bylaw.

“The temporary bylaw was made through a collective effort with input from a dozen service lines and feedback from over 2,000 business owners,” Choi said.

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“This bylaw, if passed, would mandate face coverings in all indoor public premises and public vehicles.”

Shopping malls, entertainment facilities and taxis would all be part of the new bylaw, however, private spaces such as schools, daycares and private residences would be exempt from the mask mandate.

Choi added the bylaw also has exceptions for some members of the community, including young children and people with “medical issues or disabilities that inhibit them from wearing a mask.”

“We’re not looking for absolutely everyone to wear masks,” Choi said. “And this bylaw is not absolutely right for absolutely everyone.”

Mask sales skyrocket in Calgary following Health Canada recommendation
Mask sales skyrocket in Calgary following Health Canada recommendation

Choi added the bylaw will focus mainly on education rather than enforcement, but monetary penalties up to $200 will be included in the bylaw.

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“Enforcement will be used as a last resort to be deployed only as needed,” she said.

As part of the bylaw, Choi noted all public businesses must display a sign asking for face mask use, however, the individual stores will not be required to enforce the bylaw or turn away customers who refuse to wear a mask.

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During the presentation, Sampson noted he believes this bylaw is the best temporary solution to help flatten the curve of Calgary’s climbing coronavirus cases.

“Right now, a robust communication plan is the only tool we have to try and convince Calgarians that something needs to be different,” Sampson said.

“My feeling is that if we take action now, we may be able to prevent the closure that may inevitably happen in the next six to eight weeks.”

Read more: Should masks be mandatory? It depends

During a discussion on Tuesday, several council members declared their support for the bylaw, including Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison.

“Public health is not up for debate,” Davison said. “Let’s put Calgarians first and approve this today.”

However, some council members also shared their reservations.

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“The issue that I have is when these decisions become political, which they shouldn’t be,” Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas said in an interview with Global News. “They should be based on evidence and science.”

Farkas said these issues should be handled by the province and medical professionals, just as all the other public health measures have been thus far.

“It’s important for everyone to remember that every step of the way with the closures and the restrictions, never once did council vote on them,” he said.

Calgary physicians urge city, province to make masks mandatory
Calgary physicians urge city, province to make masks mandatory

Farkas added that while he agrees the use of face masks is encouraged by many health officials, deciding to make them mandatory would be overstepping council’s jurisdiction.

Ward 4 Coun. Sean Chu said he shares similar concerns.

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“Why are we getting into other people’s jurisdictions?” Chu said. “This health issue belongs to the province.”

Chu added the city should instead ask the government to implement a provincewide policy.

“Let people be adults and make their own choices,” he said. “If this is so important, then you should advocate to the province and to the chief medical officer of health and let them make the decision.”

Read more: Could masks become mandatory in Calgary? Mayor isn’t ruling it out

Council members aren’t the only ones with reservations about the implementation of a mask bylaw. Residents have also been speaking out against the issue since the mayor first brought the idea to light in early July.

On Sunday, an anti-mask rally was held where many Calgarians expressed their concerns about what this bylaw could mean for the community.

“What [Mayor Naheed] Nenshi is doing is unnecessary and is going to be more detrimental than positive overall,” March to Unmask organizer Jake Eskesen said Sunday.

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“Having a choice in this instance is actually very important because there are a lot of categories in our society that are going to be negatively affected by this mask mandate.”

Should masks be mandatory in Calgary? Thousands of Calgarians weigh in
Should masks be mandatory in Calgary? Thousands of Calgarians weigh in

However, many medical professionals urged council to strongly consider the bylaw, including Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, who spoke during Monday’s presentation.

“If masks prevent outbreaks — which they have been shown to do — then absolutely they will save lives,” he said.

“Right now, we’re sitting at 34 per cent of people wearing a mask in Calgary and that’s simply not enough. The lower number of people you have wearing a mask, the lower the effectiveness.”