Calgary

City council to decide if masks will be required on Calgary Transit

City council will be asked at its meeting on Monday to approve making masks mandatory on Calgary Transit buses and trains.

If approved, new measure would take effect on Aug. 1

A man wears a face mask as he waits for transit in Calgary on March 18. Council will decide Monday if masks should be mandatory on Calgary Transit. (The Canadian Press)

City council will be asked at its meeting on Monday to approve making masks mandatory on Calgary Transit buses and trains.

The measure would require transit riders to wear a face covering starting Aug. 1, if it's approved.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he supports the measure for transit to keep people safe and to the limit the spread of COVID-19.

He hopes that council feels the same way.

"I believe that on transit, these are people we are responsible for. They are our customers. We are providing them that service on our property," said Nenshi.

"There are good economic reasons, that we need ridership to go up on transit. So I believe we should do it on transit sooner rather than later."

Ridership down

Since a pandemic was declared in March, transit ridership plunged as much as 90 per cent.

It has recovered slightly as Alberta's relaunch strategy progressed.

Council will also be asked to consider providing direction to the city manager, David Duckworth, to develop a policy for mandating mask usage in all city owned and operated facilities if required in the future.

The city has taken a survey to see if there's public support for mask usage on transit.

It found a majority want masks to be made mandatory as it would make riders feel safer while on a bus or a train.

Councillor says it's not city's role

Coun. Sean Chu tells CBC News he will not support requiring masks to be worn on Calgary Transit.

While he supports masks if people cannot keep a physical distance of two metres from each other, Chu said it should be a personal choice.

He said it might be a good idea for transit riders to wear a mask but he adds city council should stay away from the issue as public health is a provincial matter.

"If the province is not doing it, why are we doing it? It seems like we always weigh into other people's jurisdiction," said Chu.

"I get it. We try to help people do the right thing. But if the province is not doing it, why should we?"

Mayor wants council to decide

But the mayor said there's a valid reason that city council needs to step up in this case and make a decision.

The provincial government recommends mask usage but it isn't going to require their use.

Nenshi said that Premier Jason Kenney supports wearing masks.

"But he is nervous, as one would be, about a provincial mandate because there are parts of the province where the infection rate and the transmission rate are very low."

"So he's asked the municipalities to figure this out," said Nenshi.

A group of doctors and other supporters has formed to back the use of masks.

Called Masks4Canada, it would like to see masks be mandated for transit systems, for all indoor spaces including schools, businesses and in any crowd situations.

Dr. Joe Vipond is an emergency room physician in Calgary and a co-founder of the group.

He suggests people need to drop their opposition to putting on a mask and elected officials should get over any fears of mandating their use.

"The enemy isn't mask mandates. The enemy is the virus. And if we want to have a functional society, a functional economy, an open economy, I don't see any other way forward of keeping our economy open other than having mask mandates," said Vipond.

More free masks available

The provincial government distributed 20 million free masks last month across Alberta, primarily using drive-thru lanes at three fast food chains.

The city was given 250,000 of those masks which it distributed at transit stations, as well as through homeless shelters and its affordable housing locations.

The province has just started handing out another 20 million paper masks. 

It will again rely on Tim Horton's, McDonald's and A & W restaurants, but this time, people can get the masks from inside those locations as well.

The City of Calgary has been given 1.5 million masks from the provincial supply. Officials say they will announce a plan soon for distributing the masks.

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