The push to reintroduce the bylaw came in light of changes at the provincial level that saw Ontario lift its COVID-19 mask mandate in most public settings, including schools, grocery stores and restaurants.
The mandates remain in place in other settings such as hospitals, public transit, long-term care homes, shelters and jails, but are set to be lifted, along with all other COVID-19 directives, on April 27.
First introduced in July 2020 with the encouragement of the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s then-medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie, London’s municipal masking bylaw expired by the end of that year once provincial masking mandates had made the bylaw redundant at a municipal level.
On Monday, the same day Ontario’s mask mandates were lifted, Coun. Jesse Helmer announced via Twitter that he, along with Coun. Maureen Cassidy and Coun. Stephen Turner, sought to temporarily reintroduce the bylaw.
The matter was discussed during a special meeting of the strategic priorities and policy committee on Tuesday.
Had it passed, the bylaw would have required “mandatory face coverings in enclosed spaces that are accessible to the public to help contain the spread of COVID-19.”
According to a draft bylaw presented to Tuesday’s special meeting, applicable spaces would’ve included restaurants, malls, grocery stores and retail settings, as well as places of worship, recreational facilities, theatres and venues.
Hospitals, schools and provincial and federal government buildings are among several places where the bylaw would not apply.
The bylaw would have came into effect immediately and remain in place until at least May 9.
“When we passed this mask bylaw back in 2020, unfortunately 57 people had already died in our community from the virus, but that is a lot less than have died in the last three months,” Helmer said during Tuesday’s meeting soon.
“We’re almost at 100 people who have died since January.”
Coun. Steve Lehman was the first to voice opposition to the proposal during the meeting, asking his colleagues, “How can I, in my role as a councillor, second guess the province and our local health unit?”
“The proposed bylaw to continue masking would be extremely divisive and confusing,” Lehman added.
Fielding questions from councillors, MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Alex Summers noted that while he continues to recommend masking indoors for Londoners, the current local situation does warrant the use of a Section 22 order, which would allow the region’s top doctor to implement his own COVID-19 restrictions, such as a masking mandate.
“It’s truly a question of the authority to use the Section 22 and that threshold has not been reached, and you’ve seen across the province MOHs have not used a Class Section 22 order in this context,” Summers said.
“It would essentially override a provincial decision in the context of no additional information and in the context of no new or emerging threat localized to our jurisdiction.”
Other councillors also expressed opposition to the proposal, with some doubling down on the potential for confusion.
“This is going to be so confusing for people. Another mandate will just make it harder to enforce a mandate when it is actually required,” said Coun. Mariam Hamou.
“London does not have higher or lower numbers than the rest of Ontario, there’s no extra threat, so why must Londoners be mandated to mask up if no other place in Ontario is masking up?”
“The residents of London, Ont., are thinking, rational human beings. They can make the decision. We’re two years into this, there’s a lot more information now than when we started,” Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen added.
When it came to voting on the motion, all councillors present during Tuesday’s meeting opposed reintroducing the bylaw, apart from Helmer, Cassidy and Turner.
Mayor Ed Holder and Coun. Mo Salih were absent.