City of Calgary passes new mask bylaw, reinstates state of local emergency

People wearing face masks are seen in downtown Calgary. Global News

Just hours after a provincial mask mandate was declared, Calgary city council passed its own mask bylaw, the “Pandemic Face Covering Bylaw.”

It mirrors the mask bylaw passed in July 2020, but adds a case rate threshold at which it would be not enforced. If fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 Calgarians lasts for more than 10 days, the bylaw will not be enforced.

Read more: Alberta introduces new COVID-19 measures, offers $100 incentive to increase vaccine numbers

Calgary joins Edmonton and Strathcona County as municipalities with mask bylaws declared in recent days.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said city peace officers were unable to enforce the provincial mask mandate.

“It came to our attention that when (Justice) Minister Madu, for some unknown reason, rescinded the ability of municipal bylaw officers to actually enforce provincial health orders that we don’t today, even though the (provincial) order comes in place at 8:00 tomorrow morning, we don’t today have the right to enforce it,” the mayor said.

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A Calgary bylaw changes that.

“Because it’s a city by law, it can be enforced by any Calgary police officer. That includes police officers, bylaw officers and transit police officers.”

A new state of local emergency (SOLE) was also signed into place just after 6 p.m. on Friday.

City officials told the emergency management committee the rapidly rising fourth wave needed to be met with enhanced nimbleness for city agencies.

“We’re really using it for some very specific reasons that have to do with procurement, helping us implement rapid testing and the mandates that we agreed upon today,” Nenshi said. “Once those powers are no longer needed, there’ll be no need for the state of local emergency.”

The previous SOLE was lifted on June 14, after being in place for 15 months.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency assistant chief Coby Duerr told the committee that since city council repealed the mask bylaw on July 5, COVID-19 metrics that were trending downward have since skyrocketed due to the Delta variant.

“The primary driver of this wave of the pandemic is the Delta variant, which now makes up more than 80% of the active cases in Alberta,” Duerr said.

READ MORE: Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects province could see up to 300 ICU admissions this month 

Active cases, new cases, hospitalizations and ICU cases are back to levels not seen since early June.

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Nenshi said there’s a path out of a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

“If the unvaccinated are causing a pandemic, that are causing the vaccinated to get sick, then you’ve got to do something about it. You’ve got to isolate the unvaccinated. Or you’ve got to have real efforts to get the unvaccinated vaccinated.”

But the mask bylaw, like the provincial mask mandate, will not apply to Calgary schools, for different reasons.

“It does not affect schools because schools are under the control of the provincial government and in fact, I have to say that I was extremely puzzled that the provincial mask mandate explicitly excluded schools,” the mayor said. “There was no rationale given for that. I have to imagine that it was because the government was pandering to certain independent schools who may feel that masks are not required.”

Nenshi noted Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District, as well as Calgary post-secondary institutions have implemented mask mandates.

“I’m very pleased they did that and I applaud them for their leadership.”

The mayor will be advocating the province for a vaccine certification system to help keep businesses and facilities open, a reconsideration of 10 p.m. restrictions and increased vaccine outreach.

Read more: Alberta’s latest COVID-19 measures cause frustration for doctors, restaurant owners

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Nenshi said there are some city funds leftover from previous pandemic support that could be rolled out to support businesses like restaurants and bars impacted by Friday’s announcement from the province.

“The very first thing to do will be to reallocate that in a way that is helpful, and we can do that very quickly,” the mayor said. “I expect that if there is a desire among council to invest a little bit more in business support, we would be able to do that at our last meeting (on Sep. 13).”

Vaccine mandate for city employees

The city’s director of environmental and safety management informed the meeting that all City of Calgary employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

That means an unvaccinated city employee would need to get their first dose by Sep. 13 and a second dose by Oct. 18 to reach full immunity by the beginning of November.

City employees have until Sep. 13 to declare their vaccine status.

Christopher Collier said those with medical exemptions or other protected grounds will be required to undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19.

Ward 11 councillor and mayoral candidate Jeromy Farkas tried passing a motion at committee that would repeal the employee vaccine mandate. That was defeated on a 3-11 vote, with only councillors Farkas, Chu and Magliocca in favour.

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While the city is evaluating the human resources process for workers who decide against vaccination and aren’t exempted, city manager David Duckworth said the decision to require vaccination was required immediately given the six-week lead time for full vaccination.

“I take this incredibly seriously,” Duckworth said. “One of my top priorities is the health, welfare and safety of our employees as public servants.

“We also owe that to our citizens.”

Mayor Nenshi agreed with Duckworth’s decision on employee vaccination.

“It was the right thing to do and I applaud him and his team for the courage in going forward with that,” the mayor said.

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