British Columbia·Video

While a majority of people in B.C. support wearing masks, those who won't are steadfast

While every resident in B.C. still has a choice when it comes to masks, about 50 people protested the idea of being made to wear one in Vancouver on Sunday, part of protests across the country.

Around 50 people gathered in Vancouver on Sunday to defend their 'freedom of choice'

Health officials' flip-flop on mask use has harmed their general adoption, says a UBC clinical psychologist. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Health officials in B.C. want you to wear a mask, and polls show that the vast majority of residents in the province believe people should — but the small number of people outspoken against the COVID-19 protection measure are resolute when it comes to donning one.

B.C. has so far not put rules in place legally requiring people to wear masks, which prevent droplets from spreading into the air that could infect others with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which to date has killed 189 people and sickened 3,198 in the province.

A recent poll from Angus Reid Institute found that 73 per cent of British Columbians support masks being made mandatory for indoor places where physical distancing isn't possible.

Yet the poll found 42 per cent of residents in urban areas across Canada, where it's more common to be in crowds, say they rarely wear a mask in public, if ever.

So far, several cities in Central Canada, including Toronto, have enacted bylaws making non-medical masks mandatory in public indoor spaces.

And on Monday morning, B.C. Transit will hand out 1,600 free, reusable cloth masks at eight of its main transit hubs in Victoria to encourage mask use on transit. 

About 50 people attended an anti-mask protest at Jack Poole Plaza in Vancouver on Sunday. (CBC)

But while every resident in B.C. still has a choice when it comes to masks, about 50 people protested the idea of being made to wear one in Vancouver on Sunday, part of protests across the country.

"I am really adamant and passionate about freedom of choice," said Sarah Cuff, who attended the protest with her husband. "I do not feel that a mask is necessary."

Susan Standfield said mandatory mask bylaws infringe on people's rights. (CBC)

Others like Susan Standfield, one of the organizers of anti-lockdown protests which have taken place in B.C. since April, said on Sunday at the mask rally that she doesn't believe the pandemic is real, is not worried about getting COVID-19, and refuses to wear a mask.

"Me personally, I have very strong natural immunity and I think my whole family is naturally immune to COVID now," she said. "So for us, it's not necessary."

'They value their freedom more than their health'

Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia who studies the psychology of pandemics says the reactions of those like Cuff and Standfield are not uncommon, but the minority.

"'You're not the boss of me' type of person, they're allergic to being told what to do," Taylor said.

"They have a phenomenon called psychological reactance. When authorities tell them to do something, they feel their liberties are impinged upon [and] they react with a strong pushback."

He said when it comes to masks, such people feel their right to choose is more important than their well-being.

"They value their freedom more than they value their health," he said.

CBC News asked people in Vancouver about why they choose to wear a mask or not. Their answers included that it was the right thing to do, they were not necessary, or were uncomfortable.

WATCH | Vancouverites discuss why they wear or don't wear masks:

Health officials advise people in B.C. to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there are no laws requiring them to do so. 1:35

Since the middle of July, health officials have been encouraging people in B.C. to wear masks in places where physical distancing isn't possible such as on transit, or in small stores.

It's in contrast to advice given earlier in the pandemic, when health officials were unsure of the efficacy of masks and were trying to preserve medical-standard masks for health professionals.

Taylor says the flip-flop on mask use from officials has harmed their general adoption.

His research shows that people are more likely to adhere to public health measures such as wearing masks if they see the majority of people around them using them.

"People do respond strongly to peer pressure," he said.

With files from Deb Goble


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