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Coronavirus: St. Catharines to draft mandatory indoor mask bylaw

St. Catharines, Ont. moved a step closer to having a mandatory indoor face-covering bylaw after councillors said yes to a motion to draft a new bylaw on Monday.
St. Catharines, Ont. moved a step closer to having a mandatory indoor face-covering bylaw after councillors said yes to a motion to draft a new bylaw on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

St. Catharines, Ont., is a step closer to making face coverings mandatory in enclosed public spaces after Mayor Walter Sendzik and councillors voted in favour of drafting a temporary bylaw for a July 13 council meeting.

The move comes after Sendzik laid out terms of the directive at a special meeting on Monday.

“Masks or face coverings must be worn unless it is reasonably required to temporarily remove the covering for services provided by the establishment or while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity during physical activity,” Sendzik said during a reading.

Read more: Coronavirus — Board of health to take on mandatory mask issue in Hamilton

Exemptions to the potential bylaw include children under the age of two, people with an underlying medical condition that inhibits their ability to wear a mask, a person unable to put on or remove a face covering without assistance or employees and agents in non-public spaces or behind physical barriers.

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Enforcement of the bylaw would begin on July 14 and expire on Aug. 24. It would also apply to all City of St. Catharines facilities open to the public, such as community centres, libraries and public transit.

In his pitch for the bylaw, Sendzik told councillors that St. Catharines and Niagara Region are destinations that attract people from all over the country and beyond.

The mayor rationalized his argument, saying he learned in a recent conversation with the mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake that an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles have been visiting that municipality on the weekends.

“So this whole thing that we live in a bubble, we don’t,” Sendzik said, “And so I think it’s important for the public to understand that we’re trying to protect our community because we don’t know what other people in communities outside of Niagara are doing.”

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The motion comes at a time when a number of municipalities in Ontario recently passed bylaws requiring masks, such as Toronto and Peel Region, or had medical officers of health issue orders, like in Guelph and Kingston.

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It’s expected Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati and Niagara-on-the-Lake Mayor Betty Disero will weigh in on whether they support a mandatory face-covering bylaw when a special regional council meeting takes place on Wednesday.

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Disero told Global News that at this point, she’s only supporting an initiative by Niagara-on-the-Lake’s local chamber of commerce asking shopkeepers in “high tourist areas” to put up signs asking customers to wear a mask.

The mayor says residents would likely support a mask bylaw in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but she believes the peaceful nature of the community potentially makes it less urgent since the municipality does not have large crowd-gathering attractions like in Niagara Falls.

“We do not have attractions in the typical sense like Niagara Falls, for example, who have the Hornblower or zip line,” said Disero, “We have a living, working neighbourhood Heritage District. We have cultural events, museums and galleries, like the Shaw Festival and Music Niagara, and also many fabulous wineries and beautiful green space parks and trails.”

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Diodati said although a proponent of mask-wearing among residents and visitors in Niagara Falls, he’s says he’s a bit “concerned” about a bylaw making face coverings mandatory since it’s likely not going to be enforced.

“So the question is, who’s going to enforce it?” Diodati told Global News, “And if there is no enforcement, then it’s nothing more than a suggestion. And you’re using peer pressure. And one neighbour pitted against another neighbour to enforce it.”

Niagara Region’s medical officer of health was also non-commital on a mandatory mask policy, telling Global News that the decision should be left up to each individual municipality.

“We continue to recommend that any discussion around a mandate for face coverings happen in municipal councils where appropriate debate around this measure can occur,” Dr. Mustafa Hirji told Global News, “As of yet, we have not had any discussions with local politicians seeking to develop a face-covering bylaw locally.”

Meanwhile, the possibility of Hamilton having a mandatory face-covering bylaw appears to be in the hands of its public health department.

Read more: Toronto, Peel Region move into Stage 2 of province’s reopening plan Wednesday

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On Friday, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson revealed that public health discussions were underway on a mandatory mask plan but said it was not imminent since the city’s number of cases remains low.

“It’s playing out in different ways in different parts of the province right now, in part related to the epidemiology of the cases that they’re having,” said Richardson.

Richardson says outcomes in other regions, such as Toronto and Peel Region, will likely influence a decision that could be made when the board of health meets on Friday.