British Columbia

Mandatory mask order comes as a relief to B.C. retailers, mask advocates

The announcement that masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces in British Columbia was welcome news to retailers who have struggled to enforce mask wearing in their stores.

New order is 'better late than never,' says Vancouver doctor

People are pictured wearing face masks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The announcement that masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces in British Columbia was welcome news to retailers who have struggled to enforce mask-wearing in their stores.

The Retail Council of Canada had been pushing the province to make face coverings a requirement for weeks.

Director Greg Wilson says it will now be easier for businesses to respond to people who refused to wear masks on the basis that it wasn't an official rule.

"We can say with 100 per cent certainty that is not the case any longer, that they are required to wear a mask and we ask that you wear a mask."

He's still waiting to hear how exactly the order will be enforced, but assumes that police will be able to issue tickets to those who don't comply.

Bolen Books in Victoria, B.C., has made masks mandatory in its store since early October. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The order does not apply to anyone who cannot wear a mask, is unable to put on or remove a mask on their own or to children under the age of two.

Thursday's announcement tightening rules around mask wearing came as a relief to the manager of Bolen Books in Victoria.

"We're thrilled," said Colin Holt. "It's a real relief to staff to think it's a rule for the province now."

Bolen Books made masks mandatory in its store months ago. Staff had to deal with uncomfortable situations in the summer when five unmasked shoppers refused to leave.

Holt says staff and customers are relieved they'll have a public health order to back up store policy.

'Better late than never'

In the spring, one of the reasons why the province didn't mandate mask use was concern they'd lead to a false sense of security.

"I expect the implementation of physical distancing is behind the reluctance to have the mask order," Wilson acknowledged.

The group Masks4BC is hopeful that adding mandatory masks to measures like social distancing, sanitizing, and gathering restrictions is the final step that will help the province slow the pandemic's second wave.

Even though Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said for weeks that there is an expectation that people will wear masks indoors, the group's spokesperson says making it mandatory was necessary to protect retail workers.

"The initial statement put the onus on businesses to enforce it and it kind of took power out of the hands of small business owners or the cashier at the local grocery store who was confronted with somebody who was not wearing a mask and was adamantly anti-mask," explained family physician Dr. Anna Wolak.

"It's unfortunate that it took so long, but better late than never."

People are pictured wearing face masks outside the Broadway-City Hall SkyTrain station in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Henry has repeatedly said there are some people who medically cannot wear a mask, or others who may not have access to masks.

Wolak agrees it's important to be patient with those who aren't wearing masks.

"B.C. has always had the gentle approach to things," she said. "The hope is that apart from this mask mandate we continue to spread the message that you have to be understanding and please don't rage out against those people who can't wear a mask."

With files from Deborah Goble