Lethbridge city council has passed a bylaw that will temporarily make face coverings mandatory in all indoor public spaces to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
Bylaw 6239 — the Temporary Mandatory Face Covering Bylaw — will take effect immediately throughout the city, after its third and final reading passed in a 6-3 vote at Monday’s city council meeting.
“I think we have to set an example as community leaders, and we have to do the best we can recognizing — as was said many times — schools are going back, young students will be required to wear masks in school,” said Mayor Chris Spearman. “Masks are going to be a thing for the foreseeable future.”
The bylaw states that a face covering must be worn at all times while in an indoor, enclosed or substantially enclosed public place or public vehicle, including malls, grocery stores, churches and taxis.
Lethbridge joins Calgary and Edmonton on the list of Alberta cities to pass a similar bylaw.
The move by city council follows the mandating of face coverings for all public transit riders since Aug. 4, and in all city-owned facilities as of Aug. 7. By the city’s definition, a face covering includes a medical or non-medical mask or other face covering that fully covers the nose, mouth and chin, and should be made of multiple layers of tightly woven material.
The bylaw includes several exemptions, including:
- A person under the age of two.
- Persons unable to place, use or remove a face covering without assistance.
- Persons unable to wear a face covering by reason of an underlying medical condition or disability or other protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
- Persons consuming food or drink in designated areas or as part of a religious or spiritual ceremony.
- Persons engaged in aquatic 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.
- A person who is sleeping or in bed at a homeless shelter.
- A child who is older than two years of age but is younger than five years of age chronologically or developmentally and who refuses to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver.
- An individual leading in worship, provided physical distancing of at least two metres is possible.
The bylaw was met with resistance by three members of council who voted against the proposed rule, councillors Blaine Hyggen, Joe Mauro and Ryan Parker.
Hyggen read a letter addressed to council from Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf, who requested that council carefully reconsider passing the bylaw following substantial backlash in the form of emails and calls into Neudorf’s office.
Spearman says he didn’t agree with the letter.
“I wouldn’t have discussed it if Coun. Hyggen hadn’t raised it,” Spearman said. “Certainly it was surprising, and I didn’t think it was appropriate.
“The reason why that was raised by Coun. Hyggen would appear to be to influence other councillors, and I felt it wasn’t appropriate.”
Parker says although his vote was in opposition to the bylaw, he hopes the city can get on board with the temporary rule.
“I wasn’t in favour, but I also respect the decision of my colleagues,” Parker said. “I put it all out there — not only two weeks ago, but I put it out there again today — in regards to the logic I felt, that the bylaw wasn’t needed.”
Coun. Rob Miyashiro was the initial mover of the bylaw, and he says he hopes wearing masks will become the norm in Lethbridge.
“Wearing a mask is one thing — it’s not a draconian thing, it’s not a horrible thing — it’s a little thing people can do, and then we can make it normal,” Miyashiro said.
Businesses will be required to post signage alerting customers to the bylaw.
A $100 fine is possible for those who choose not to comply with the rule, but Spearman says it’s more about education than enforcement.
“We’re hoping it makes it easier for businesses, when they have to say to customers, ‘You should be wearing a mask,’ because they can just point to a sign and say, ‘It’s a bylaw,'” he said.
According to the city’s website, more information for businesses will be posted in the coming days.