Mask complaints rise in Calgary prompting calls for more enforcement support

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WATCH ABOVE: Wearing masks has been mandatory in Calgary since, and while city officials say most people are complying the number of confrontations seems to be growing. Adam MacVicar reports.

More run-ins between patrons and staff at local businesses over mandatory masks has a Calgary restaurant owner calling for more support when it comes to enforcement.

Stephen Deere, who owns Modern Steak on Stephen Avenue, said that many of his staff have been berated by customers on several occasions because of the mandatory mask bylaw.

Deere spoke out about his concerns to Global News on Saturday, and said he has since received many threatening phone calls and emails, and the restaurant has received multiple negative reviews online.

“I understand their frustration,” Deere said Monday. “We have a level of frustration too.  We are to follow the bylaw but not enforce it; however, the business is held at a higher standard than an individual and we can be fined.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Calls for more education around Calgary mask bylaw exemptions

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Deere’s concerns follow an incident at a northwest Calgary liquor store on Sunday, in which a customer shouted racist insults at the clerk behind the counter because he had to wear a mask inside.

According to the store owners, the man said he had an issue with the clerk not wearing a mask when she was behind the plexiglass barrier.

The incident, which was caught on camera, caught the attention of the Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who visited the store after the encounter.

“I said that, ‘I’m so very sorry that this happened to you, that’s not the Calgary I know, and I’m sure you agree,’ and they said, ‘Absolutely,'” Gondek said Monday. “I’m hoping people realize that lashing out like this is not the ideal response, and I hope the people they’re lashing out against are people trying to do their job.”

According to the City of Calgary, as of Monday there have been 959 complaints to 311 about people not complying with the mask bylaw in indoor public spaces and local businesses; a figure that has risen from 600 complaints up until last week.

Deere said he believes there is confusion around the messaging of the bylaw since schools were reopened, and he is calling on the city to step in to help.

“This is the vicious circle here, is that if we don’t do those things and follow those rules, we’re the ones who get in trouble at the end of the day,” Deere said. “So I think that’s where the disconnect is and city hall has to tighten things up.”

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Calgary’s temporary mask bylaw has been in place since Aug. 1, and it requires masks to be used in all public indoor spaces, including malls, grocery stores, city-owned buildings, retail businesses and places of worship.

Exemptions include children under the age of two, people with underlying medical conditions and people who are unable to put on or remove a mask without help.

A recent city survey showed 89 per cent of Calgarians are in compliance with the bylaw, and another 88 per cent are in support of mandated masks.

Read more: City of Calgary report shows 89% of residents following mask bylaw

“Many businesses, most businesses were in favour of this bylaw so that they could open,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “But that doesn’t mean you have to take it all on yourself, and I would really suggest to business owners to say, ‘Look, it’s the law.'”

City officials acknowledged that businesses find themselves in a balancing act when it comes to keeping staff and patrons safe, as well as providing good service.

While more supports could be on the way if things continue to escalate, one city official said that education remains the main priority.

“If more incidents occur, we will take the appropriate enforcement action if necessary,” acting City of Calgary compliance services manager Abdul Rafih said. “However, our first and foremost take on it is to provide that education to customers, business owners and Calgarians.”

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Rafih said businesses do have the right to refuse service to customers who refuse to wear a mask.

He also suggested that any businesses who feel threatened by a customer refusing to wear a mask should contact Calgary police.

Meanwhile, Deere is calling for kindness as Calgarians continue to maneuver life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Support local and be kind to each other, we’re all Calgarians,” Deere said. “Nothing good comes out of tearing down other people’s businesses.”