A Calgary bar is facing a human rights complaint after a woman who didn’t want to wear a mask was turned away.
Andrew Brassard, the co-owner of Broken City Social Club, said he was notified on Nov. 6 that the Alberta Human Rights Commission had received a human rights complaint regarding an incident that took place at the bar in October.
Brassard said the incident involved a woman who said she could not wear a mask because she had PTSD and was then denied entry by staff. He said staff went to seek guidance from a manager but when the manager returned to address the issue, Brassard said the woman had left.
Following that, Brassard said a string of Facebook posts appeared saying his club was discriminating against people with disabilities.
Fearing further trouble, the owners posted that all people will be required to wear a facemask despite Calgary’s bylaw having exemptions.
“Reaction was so visceral from that group that we felt we couldn’t judge who was telling us the truth and who was coming here to cause trouble,” Brassard said.
It’s left Brassard in a tricky position but he said he feels obligated to his staff and customers’ safety. He’s said he’s willing to bear the consequences of the people who want to boycott his business.
“It’s frustrating that people are coming and accusing us of something when we are actually trying to keep people safe,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a great sacrifice to not come to Broken City.”
Jake Eskesen is the administrator a Facebook group that calls out establishments denying entry to people not wearing masks — the Black Listed and White Listed Businesses in Calgary and Area.
“There are people who have very significant reasons for not wearing a mask. A lot of these reasons can be invisible such as PTSD, anxiety, asthma and breathing issues,” Eskesen said.
Eskesen said his group tries to build awareness and has been reaching out to businesses.
“If they violate human rights, not only are they going to lose people’s respect but they are going to lose business. And at the end of the day it’s going to hurt their bottom line,” he said.
Calgary’s mask bylaw, like other similar bylaws in the province, provides many exceptions to mandatory masking.
Those who don’t wear masks can’t be discriminated against, but it comes with limits according the the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.
“Businesses are private entities and have the right to protect the safety of their customers and can deny services to those who refuse to cover their faces,” Myrna Tuttle, a research associate with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, said.
Tuttle said businesses have an obligation to accommodate people with disabilities but also an obligation to protect the health and safety of their customers and staff.
“Businesses accommodate their customers only to the point of ‘undue hardship,'” she said. “If an accommodation causes risks to that safety then it would be considered undue hardship,”
Tuttle said mandatory masking is not only about individual freedom but also about public safety.
“It is not only ourselves but others as well. We need to have a balance between individual rights and public safety especially when there is a public health crisis,” she said. “The Charter allows limitations on freedoms that can be justified in a free and democratic society.
“Restrictions on our freedom are justified and necessary to protect others and ourselves.”
Brassard said the bottom line for him is the need to make sure customers and staff feel safe.
“Or there’s no point in even opening the doors because nobody will come. And if people are saying their rights are being infringed upon, well, I think I have a right to run a business in the safest manner possible and my staff all have a right to work,” Brassard said.