The owner of a South Okanagan gas station is speaking out after a customer used a racist insult when the business tried to enforce the province’s mask mandate.
The case is also shining a spotlight on the conflicting messages that business owners say they are getting on how to handle people who say they have a medical exemption to mask-wearing during COVID-19.
Jasbeer Bansoota, the owner of the Kaleden Petro Canada, said the racist incident occurred on Wednesday evening after an employee asked a customer to wear a mask.
Bansoota said the woman initially said she didn’t have one.
When the employee repeated that masks were required, the customer said she couldn’t wear a mask for medical reasons, Bansoota said.
The employee directed her to call Bansoota.
The business owner said he told the woman she either needed to show proof of a medical exemption or don a mask “because people are making all kinds of different excuses not to wear masks.”
“So then she started threatening me with a lawsuit,” Bansoota said.
“I was like, ‘You are most welcome to do that but we do require a mask.'”
Bansoota said the woman left but not before saying to his employee, “You f—— immigrants go back to India.”
The business owner said it felt bad to hear the racist insult and those angry with the mask mandate should not direct their anger at local businesses.
“If you are not happy with this order don’t use businesses to get to the government. You have other ways to show them that you are not happy with this but coming to the businesses and taking it out on the employee… he has nothing to do with it,” Bansoota said.
The incident comes amid public confusion about how medical mask exemptions should be handled.
The province says people who have health conditions or impairments that prevent them from wearing a mask, people who can’t remove their own mask, and children under 12 are exempt from the province’s mask mandate that requires face coverings in all indoor public spaces.
However, official advice has varied about how medical exemptions should be handled.
At a Nov. 19 press conference, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said people who have a medical exemption should be taken at their word.
“There is no way that we will force people to have medical notes or other things,” Henry said.
“There are some people who cannot wear masks. We need to be able to accommodate them and that will mean in some cases that they can have remote pickup or that they go to receive services at times when there are other people not around.”
Meanwhile, an RCMP spokesperson told Global News the police force believes there are cases where those who are medically exempt should be getting doctors’ notes.
“When asked by a business to wear a mask prior to entry, they could then produce the doctor’s note.”
The president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce Nicole Clark agrees those unable to wear a mask should be able to provide documentation showing they are medically exempt.
“They should have something from their doctor that they can’t wear a mask and be able to provide that,” Clark said.
The mixed messages are likely creating uncertainty for businesses trying to enforce mask rules.
– with files from Shelby Thom and Kimberly Davidson