Edmonton city council has passed a bylaw that will mandate masks or face coverings in all indoor public spaces, as well as on public transit, effective Aug. 1.
Council approved the bylaw in a 10-3 vote Wednesday afternoon. Councillors Jon Dziadyk, Tony Caterina and Mike Nickel voted against the bylaw.
“We did this because it is now broadly understood that face coverings in public can significantly reduce the spread of the virus,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “If paired with other public health measures… including washing your hands and practising physical distancing, this can help prevent future waves of infection.”
Iveson did not hide that he’s been vocal in his support for face coverings, and added that while it’s been strongly suggested for months now, that suggestion didn’t go as far as he’d liked.
“I do believe that mandating face coverings is an important step to protecting Edmontonians and protecting our economy from another shutdown,” he said.
“It’s been proven time and time again in this pandemic that being proactive helps save lives and protects the economy.”
Last week, the city’s emergency advisory committee voted in favour of making masks mandatory on public transit and in all city-owned facilities. But this bylaw takes that one step further to include all indoor public spaces such as retail stores, grocery stores, entertainment venues, recreation centres, restaurants and transit stations.
It also applies to transit vehicles and vehicles for hire.
Face coverings can be removed when eating or drinking in a designated seating area, when taking part in a religious or spiritual ceremony or when engaged in water activities or physical exercise.
City officials said business owners and operators will not be responsible for enforcement and can choose whether to deny service to those who do not comply with the bylaw. Business owners may also sell or provide masks to customers if they choose.
The fine for breaking the bylaw is $100, but the city says it will focus on education rather than enforcement.
There are several exceptions to the bylaw, including:
- persons under the age of 2
- persons who are unable to place, use, or remove a face covering without assistance
- persons unable to wear a face covering due to a mental or physical concern or limitation, or protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act
- persons consuming food or drink in designated seating areas or as part of religious ceremony
- persons engaged in water activities or physical exercise
- persons providing care or assistance to a person with a disability where a face covering would hinder that caregiving or assistance
- persons engaging in services that require the temporary removal of a face covering
- hospitals and health-care facilities
- child-care facilities
- employee-only spaces where physical barriers have been installed between employees and patrons
Politicizing the mask debate
The debate around mandating masks has been heated, with some for and others against the idea.
When asked why he believes the debate around masks has become so politicized, Iveson said he asks himself the same question.
“I think one of the strongest responses to this pandemic was when the best advice was being shared consistently across all orders of government and jurisdictions — and people were following what other jurisdictions were doing with curiosity rather than with suspicion,” he explained. “That’s public policy at its best. That’s governance at its best.
“As time has worn on and as fatigue has set in and as cynicism has come back and that tenuous sense of human connection and solidarity that got us through the first several months of this was replaced by, I think, mass anxiety about the future, that has led to some fracturing. And that has, that fracturing, has led to mixed signals.”
Read more: Why some people still refuse to wear masks
Iveson said he believes no one would have questioned the guidelines of the medical officers of health back in April.
“We were all curious what they had to say and acting with urgency to save — as far as we knew — our lives and the lives of our loved ones and trying to flatten the curve so we could restart our economy. There was a unified purpose. And now that solidarity has ebbed and been replaced.
“I think it’s important to continue to look to science rather than Facebook for the best advice of what to do. And for us to actually listen to the different arguments — and I listened carefully — and then to act in the public interest.
“Ideally, that happens in unity because we’re all listening to the same science and talking about the same facts and giving consistent and clear messages to people. That’s not happening the way it was a few months ago. And so when that ambiguity creeps in, that can be exploited by folks who wish to divide. And they may be doing so out of a sense of great anxiety right now because there’s so much fear out there about how long this will go.
“I’m empathetic to all of that. As elected officials, we’ve grappled with all of that complexity and heard that diversity of views from our public. But this is where, at the end of the day, we need science more than ever. And the science, I think, is pretty clear that there’s no harm and all upside to face mask, face coverings and masking.”
Surrounding municipalities’ mask policies
Similar bylaws mandating masks in all indoor public spaces have already passed in Calgary and Banff. Banff took its bylaw one step further to include an outdoor space along the popular Banff Avenue.
The fine for breaking the bylaw in Calgary is $50 and the fine in Banff is $150.
As of Aug. 1, people in St. Albert will be required to wear face coverings on St. Albert Transit and inside city facilities that provide services to the public, including St. Albert Place, Servus Place and St. Albert Public Library. Masks will also be required inside Fountain Park Recreation Centre when it reopens on Aug. 4.
Also Aug. 1, Spruce Grove will require the use of face coverings on its public transit. The Spruce Grove emergency management agency continues to monitor the situation regarding the use of face coverings in other situations but no further decisions have been made.
In Strathcona County, face coverings will be required to be worn on all transit vehicles and in county-owned facilities beginning Aug. 4.
In Leduc, all Leduc Transit and LATS users will be required to wear masks on board beginning Aug. 1.