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Mask exemption: B.C. woman files complaint after autistic son denied entry at Indigo store

Click to play video 'Indigo under fire for turning away people without masks who are exempt' Indigo under fire for turning away people without masks who are exempt
The 'Chapters' chain is under fire for turning away two people for not wearing masks, even though they have legitimate reasons for not wearing one. John Hua reports. – Dec 14, 2020

A Vancouver mother says she has filed a human rights complaint after she and her son, who has autism, were denied entry at an Indigo store because he cannot wear a mask.

Tina Chiao and her 12-year-old son, Andrew, said they were denied entry at the Metrotown location in Burnaby on Nov. 22.

Andrew has autism and a sensory processing disorder. Wearing personal protective equipment of any kind, including a non-medical mask or face shield, causes him to have significant behavioural issues, Chiao said.

Click to play video 'How will new mask requirement in B.C. be enforced?' How will new mask requirement in B.C. be enforced?
How will new mask requirement in B.C. be enforced? – Nov 19, 2020

She told Global News that she presented a note from her pediatrician to the staff, but was told they would need to shop online or arrange for curbside pickup.

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“He doesn’t read or write. He doesn’t have the ability to use a computer. He doesn’t understand the concept of online shopping,” Chiao said about her son.

“It was really unfortunate and made us very angry about the situation.”

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As of Nov. 19, British Columbians are required to wear a mask in all indoor, public spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, with exemptions for people who can’t wear one because of physical, psychological, behavioural or health conditions.

Read more: Coronavirus: How will British Columbia’s new mask requirement be enforced?

Masks are encouraged for children aged 2 to 11, but are required for those aged 12 and up.

“We have been in other public settings, grocery stores, transit — and everyone has been really accommodating of Andrew’s extra needs,” Chiao said.

“I think people with disabilities are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and you have a group of people who are already excluded and now they are being further excluded.”

Click to play video 'Waiting for first batch of Pfizer-COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in B.C.' Waiting for first batch of Pfizer-COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in B.C.
Waiting for first batch of Pfizer-COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in B.C – Dec 14, 2020

In an emailed response, the company said it’s sticking by its policy of stopping people who aren’t wearing masks from entering stores even if they are exempt.

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“In making the decision to update our mask policy, we’ve been mindful of our legal obligations, especially those relating to customer human rights. At Indigo, we deeply respect the rights and distinct needs of each of our customers,” the email said.

“While we understand that access to our store may be more limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are dedicated to serving our customers and are confident that the reasonable accommodations we offer can ensure your continued access to Indigo’s services and products.”

Read more: Anti-mask rally amid B.C. COVID-19 case surge ‘really concerning’: respirologist

Elisabeth Walker-Young, a four-time Paralympic swimmer who lives in North Vancouver, said she recently spoke to Chaio about what happened and decided to visit Indigo’s location Broadway and Granville in Vancouver.

The Order of Canada recipient was born without hands but has some fingers at the end of her arms. She is physically unable to put on a mask and was also denied entry to the bookstore.

“When I am out with my daughter or my husband, they will help me put on a mask. But when I am out in the world independently, I just can’t do it,” Walker-Young said.

“It’s just not fair. I am not an anti-masker. I actually don’t go out often because I am trying not to make people feel uncomfortable, which is an awful way to navigate the world.”

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Read more: Laval, Que., mother pushes Indigo to change its policy on face coverings in stores

In October, Indigo announced it was changing its policy to allow for mask exemptions in Quebec stores after a mother and her eight-year-old son, who has autism and is unable to wear a mask, were denied entry.

The regulations in that province state that children under the age of 10 do not have to wear a mask, nor do people with special needs, including autism.

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