Public transit users in Quebec will now have to wear a face covering if they hope to get on buses, trains or metros across the province as a two-week grace period comes to an end on Monday.
Face coverings became mandatory on public transit on July 13, except for those with medical exemptions and for those aged 12 and under.
The Quebec government said when announcing the measure that there would be no fines, but people without a mask would be denied service once the grace period ended.
During a Monday afternoon briefing, however, Quebec’s Deputy Premier and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced that police can hand out tickets that could result in fines ranging from $400 to $6,000.
The union representing the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) bus drivers, reiterating its position from two weeks ago, said that while it welcomed the new measure, “drivers would not be playing mask police.”
“It is not for our members to manage who has a mask and who does not, or to restrict access to public transport,” said union president Daniel Leroux.
The STM, for its part, said in a written statement that it would not adopt a coercive approach to ensure compliance.
“With 68 metro stations, hundreds of entrance gates, and more than 1,200 buses in rush hour traffic, our teams cannot prohibit access to facilities or vehicles, but will make sure to educate customers about the importance of respecting this measure,” said STM spokesperson Isabelle-Alice Tremblay.
The STM said audio messages are played on the metro, while bus drivers can play pre-recorded messages on the bus if they see clients who are flouting the rules.
Furthermore, station agents and STM inspectors have masks they can hand out to commuters who need them.
So far, the agency has distributed some 457,000 face masks within the network.
The transit agency says it is doing everything it can to make it as easy as possible for its clientele to abide by the new measure.
The STM and other Montreal-area transit agencies say the overwhelming majority of people have followed the rule.
However, a recent incident captured on a cellphone video and posted online shows a passenger on STM bus 48 appearing to refuse to wear a mask.
The driver reminded the passenger of the rules via the onboard public announcement system.
Another passenger appeared to intervene before the situation deteriorated into a physical altercation between both passengers.
Montreal police say the matter is under investigation.
While answering a question about the incident, Guilbault said it remains the responsibility of the transporting to enforce the rules, but that police can be called to intervene.
Nonetheless, during the two-week grace period, the STM has seen a sharp increase in the number of people wearing face coverings.
On July 22, the percentage of people wearing face coverings on the metro and buses was 95 per cent and 96 per cent, respectively, according to the STM, up from an average of 87 per cent the week before.
The STM says the percentage of people wearing face coverings in the week before they became mandatory was 60 per cent.
Quebec has also made masks mandatory in indoor public places since July 18 — a move that has been largely accepted but has also resulted in protests over the past two weekends.
— With files from The Canadian Press