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Coronavirus: London, Ont., councillors call for discussion on mandatory masks policy

A unanimous vote was passed for city staff, MLHU, and the County of Middlesex to jointly discuss whether to make wearing masks mandatory in all enclosed spaces.
A unanimous vote was passed for city staff, MLHU, and the County of Middlesex to jointly discuss whether to make wearing masks mandatory in all enclosed spaces. 980 CFPL

As London-Middlesex and several regions across Ontario prepare to enter Stage 3 of the province’s coronavirus reopening plan on Friday, London city councillors are calling for the city’s chief medical officer of health to give his recommendation on the topic of masks, and when and where it should be mandatory.

Dr. Chris Mackie with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) had stated in early July that starting Monday, July 20, wearing a mask will be mandatory in certain situations including on public transit and where close contact cannot be avoided.

But with the added pressure of more reopening in Stage 3 possibly spiking the number of COVID-19 cases, the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss a short-noticed motion.

Read more: Coronavirus: councillors endorse 9 more relief measures as London, Ont., faces $32.8M budget shortfall

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The motion was brought forward by Mayor Ed Holder, Ward 5 councillor and MLHU board chair Maureen Cassidy, Ward 13 councillor and MLHU board chair Arielle Kayabaga and Ward 5 councillor and deputy mayor Jesse Helmer.

It asked for “Civic Administration (to) consult with the medical officer of health and the county (of Middlesex), and for the medical officer of health to bring forward, for our consideration, legislative measures that are recommended by the medical officer of health to us so that we can enact them to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections within our city,” said Mayor Holder.

Holder adds this would be deemed temporary, and would require the wearing of masks or face coverings in enclosed public spaces.

Municipalities face struggles mandating face masks
Municipalities face struggles mandating face masks

Dr. Mackie was not present at the meeting on Tuesday night.

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The councillors held a closed session before reopening the meeting for the public, and upon returning, Ward 7 councillor Josh Morgan put out an amendment, requesting for Dr. Mackie to first attend a meeting with city council and provide advice.

“If advice is to be given on a possible municipal bylaw, I think it would be appropriate to have Dr. Mackie here to answer questions about the advice that he’s given,” said Morgan.

Read more: COVID-19 could deal $33M financial hit to London by end of August, city staff project

Ward 8 councillor Steve Lehman called it a “(jurisdictional) question,” and said he must be able to question the chief medical officer of health in a public forum before considering any public legislation from council.

Ward 2 councillor Shawn Lewis expressed his concerns on making masks mandatory in more situations.

“I have a very significant concern that we may unintentionally create a placebo effect… I don’t want people to think that masks are Iron Man armour,” said Lewis.

“I’m also concerned we’re going to make a decision as a council when our health unit is a regional health. It’s the Middlesex-London Health Unit, it’s not the London Health Unit… and then I have questions around enforcement, medical exemptions, all kinds of things that make this a very complicated question.”

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Read more: Coronavirus: London city council approves deferral of final 2020 property tax payments by 60 days

Arielle Kayabaga, councillor for Ward 13, said waiting until the next SPPC meeting in August for Dr. Mackie’s answers would be too long.

Mayor Holder responded, saying he plans for a meeting with Dr. Mackie to be arranged as soon as possible, but did not say when.

Councillors voted 14-0 on Ward 7 councillor Josh Morgan’s amendment. Ward 11 councillor Stephen Turner recused due to his employment with the MLHU.

Another vote was passed 14-0 for city staff, MLHU, and the County of Middlesex to jointly discuss whether to make wearing masks mandatory in all enclosed spaces.

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Dr. Mackie posted a Twitter poll over the weekend, which focused on whether or not masks should be made mandatory.

More than 78 per cent of people were in favour of mandatory masking.

-With files from 980 CFPL’s Sawyer Bogdan