Edmonton drops mandatory mask bylaw as province introduces legislation to limit COVID-19 rule-making

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Edmonton drops mandatory mask bylaw after lengthy debate'
COVID-19: Edmonton drops mandatory mask bylaw after lengthy debate
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton no longer has a local mask bylaw, after city councillors debated the issue for hours on Tuesday. As Morgan Black explains, it comes as the Alberta government introduced its own legislation to force the city's hand – Mar 9, 2022

The City of Edmonton dropped its mandatory face coverings bylaw on Tuesday afternoon.

During a special council meeting, councillors voted 8-5 in favour of rescinding the municipal bylaw after a lengthy discussion on the topic. (See how councillors voted below).

“As of now, as we speak, there is no longer a municipal mask bylaw in existence,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said after the meeting.

As councillors debated the bylaw Tuesday afternoon, the UCP government introduced legislation that, if passed, would effectively make null and void the city’s mask bylaw.

The provincial legislation, which passed first reading Tuesday, states a council may not bring in a bylaw regarding face masks or COVID-19 vaccine policies unless approved by the minister.

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Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said municipalities will still have that power when it comes to municipally owned infrastructure, such as city recreation centres, buildings and arenas.

If the provincial legislation passes, the city’s mask bylaw would be repealed.

Click to play video: 'Changes to legislation could impact municipal leaders beyond Edmonton'
Changes to legislation could impact municipal leaders beyond Edmonton

Some of the councillors who voted to repeal the bylaw said they felt they had no choice as their hands were tied by the provincial government’s proposed legislation.

Alberta lifted its mask mandate on March 1, except for in high-risk settings. Masks are still mandatory on all forms of public transit, as well as at all Alberta Health Services-operated and contracted facilities. That includes all continuing care settings.

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At the time, Edmonton chose to keep its mask bylaw in place.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Alberta enters Step 2 reopening, drops most pandemic protocols'
COVID-19: Alberta enters Step 2 reopening, drops most pandemic protocols

During Tuesday’s meeting, city administration recommended council rescind the city’s mask bylaw based on a review of research and evidence gathered. The city heard from stakeholders, businesses and residents on the mask bylaw, and reviewed what other jurisdictions in the province are doing with mask mandates.

Last week, the city asked Edmontonians to weigh in on the mask bylaw through an online survey, which closed on Monday.

Acting city manager Catrin Owen released preliminary results from the survey Tuesday, which she said received a record-breaking number of responses.

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Preliminary results showed that of the 66,562 respondents who filled out the survey between Feb. 28 and March 2, 68 per cent were in favour of removing the bylaw. Thirty per cent of respondents wanted to see the mask mandate remain in place and two per cent were unsure.

When asked about keeping the mask bylaw in place on public transit, 43 per cent of people wanted to see masks remain mandatory there, while 53 per cent were against the idea. Four per cent of respondents to that question were unsure.

Adam Laughlin, Edmonton’s deputy city manager of integrated infrastructure services, said the city’s Business Improvement Area partners stated a majority of them were in favour of removing the city’s mask bylaw to align with the province.

The majority of stakeholders were also in favour of removing the bylaw, Laughlin said, with the exception of seniors organizations and social serving agencies which largely supported keeping the mask mandate in place.

The city’s mask bylaw originally had two triggers that would require council to review masking. First, when the province rescinds its mask order. Second, when Edmonton has 100 or fewer active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people for 28 consecutive days.

As of Monday afternoon, Edmonton’s active case rate was 130.7 per 100,000. Edmonton had 1,357 lab-confirmed active cases of COVID-19 on Monday afternoon.

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Dr. Chris Sikora, a medical officer of health with AHS in the Edmonton zone, said active case rates are less reliable factors on which to base decisions now due to limited access to PCR testing.

When asked about her guidance on masking Tuesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said it continues to be “a prudent public health measure.”

“At the same time, the policy rules around masking are difficult ones that have to be made by weighing advantages and disadvantages,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “It’s critical that we work with local partners as we’re considering how to respond to COVID and how local partners are engaged and how we work with them.

“Those are policy decisions that are made by elected officials.”

After the provincial legislation was introduced, Sohi said it was a “sad day.”

“We are treated like kids by the province,” he said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

McIver responded to Sohi’s comments later Tuesday.

“Mayor Sohi is entitled to his opinion. And I respect Mayor Sohi and I respect his opinion.”

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Sohi said he will continue to work to rebuild the city’s relationship with the provincial government, something he’s committed to since he was elected last fall.

“It is disappointing that the good faith gestures that I made with well intention to reset that relationship have not been met with the same kind of enthusiasm or the same kind of expectation I was expecting,” Sohi said.

Administration stressed people still have a choice to wear a mask and asked others to respect each individual’s decision.

Administration was also asked to prepare a new temporary face coverings bylaw to only include provisions for face coverings on public transit and publicly accessible city-owned facilities.
Administration has been asked to return with this information for the March 14/16 council meeting.

The following councillors voted in favour of rescinding the mask bylaw:

  • Mayor Amarjeet Sohi
  • pihêsiwin Coun. Tim Cartmell
  • sipiwiyiniwak Coun. Sarah Hamilton
  • Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack
  • Dene Coun. Aaron Paquette
  • tastawiyiniwak Coun. Karen Principe
  • Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi Coun. Jennifer Rice
  • Karhiio Coun. Keren Tang

The following councillors voted against dropping the mask mandate:

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  • papastew Coun. Michael Janz
  • Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford
  • Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador
  • O-day’min Coun. Anne Stevenson
  • Sspomitapi Coun. Jo-Anne Wright

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