COVID-19: Saskatoon city committee recommends keeping mask mandate on transit

Saskatoon city council voted to lift the mask mandate in city facilities, but not on buses. File / Global News

A Saskatoon city committee voted to recommend keeping masks mandatory on transit after the provincial government lifts the public health order requiring masks at the end of the month.

Eight councillors supported the motion, in a governance and priorities meeting on Tuesday morning, after a debate centred around how to best keep transit users safe from the virus that causes COVID-19 while prioritizing the security of bus operators, who could have been responsible for enforcing the bylaws.

It stems from a report councillors requested from the administration during a special meeting of council at the start of the month.

The report outlined four options — to enforce mask wearing on all buses by hiring security personnel, to enforce mask wearing on high issue routes, to enforce mask wearing by having security personnel at terminals or to adhere to the status quo, which is to have a policy in place requiring riders to wear masks but to take no enforcement measures.

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The report estimated the cost of the first option at nearly $680,000. The costs of the other programs were less and the status quo required no additional funding.

Mayor Charlie Clark proposed a motion endorsing the fourth option, saying he thought it best to “re-iterate that the requirement is that people wear masks. We hand out masks to people who don’t. We do what we’ve been doing but we don’t go to the level of enforcement.”

The city report stated 99 per cent of riders had complied with the mask mandate and there had been only 15 negative incidences since March 2020.

“No physical assaults have occurred regarding masking to date,” it reads.

Councillors disagreed on whether the number of incidents would increase after the provincial health order ends.

Coun. David Kirton said he believes there could be many more instances, which would put drivers at risk.

“Is it safer for (transit users) to protect themselves with their own masks on the bus and just to have the recommendation of masks on the bus? Or is it safer to mandate with the possibility of violence and confrontations that would come up?” he asked.

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“There’s going to be a split in the society (between people who wear masks and those who won’t) — there already is a split in the society. And it’s going to manifest itself very possibly on these buses and that worries me very much.”

The matter will come before city council at the end of the month, along with a motion from Coun. Hilary Gough for city staff to monitor mask compliance and negative incidents on buses going forward and to report back frequently.

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