City may change exemption rules for Edmonton's mandatory mask bylaw
City reviewing bylaw and ponders possible fine for people abusing mask exemption
The City of Edmonton is reviewing its mandatory face covering bylaw less than two weeks after it went into effect, interim city manager Adam Laughlin told council Thursday.
It could include changes to who is considered exempt from wearing a mask, and possible fines for people who lie about being exempt, Laughlin said in his latest update to council's emergency advisory committee.
"If administration determines that exemptions are being misused, it may be appropriate to recommend a fine for improperly claiming an exemption under the bylaw," Laughlin said.
The bylaw went into effect Aug. 1, and so far the majority of people are following the rules, the city said.
Mask exemption cards
Laughlin announced the bylaw review and potential new regulations one day after the city stopped handing out mask exemption cards.
Since the program started on Aug. 8, the city has issued 6,000 cards at recreation centres.
Mayor Don Iveson said city managers made the right choice in suspending the program but expressed dismay that it was abused.
"A few people have let us down here with their behaviour and spoiled what I think was well-intentioned," Iveson said.
Laughlin said the program was meant to help people with legitimate medical reasons for not wearing face coverings.
"It was in the spirit of trying to be helpful," Laughlin said. "We experienced unanticipated misuse of the program."
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"Our hope [was] and may be naive, that in a pandemic we wouldn't have individuals that would go to that level, but obviously we still have lots of work to do."
The cards are still valid and he said people who have them should use them if they feel they're necessary.
He also urged businesses to be compassionate with people who don't wear masks.
The city is reevaluating the program and may switch to an online forum and require more proof that people are legitimately exempt.
David Aitken, chair of the city's COVID-19 task team, bolstered Laughlin's position on enforcement.
"If we do proceed with the exemption cards and we find that they are being abused or used inappropriately, we can consider measures and sanctions,"
Laughlin said the city may raise the minimum age — currently children under two are exempt — based on the province's re-entry plan for schools, which require only students in Grade 4 and up to wear masks.
The update to the emergency advisory committee came as the province announced there were 475 active cases in the Edmonton zone.
Laughlin noted the total equals 46 per 100,000 people — the province's threshold is 50 per 100,000 before putting an area under a health watch.
Three neighbourhoods in Edmonton with higher case numbers, mainly among 20 and 30 year olds, are Castledowns, Northeast and Woodcroft East.
City hall reopening
Laughlin also announced a phased-in plan to re-open City Hall, which has been closed since the end of March.
The Hallway Cafe will re-open Aug. 17 and by the end of August city councillors may be able to hold meetings with people in their offices, by appointment only.
By Sept. 14, pre-registered speakers may attend city and committee meetings.
Re-opening the building to the general public will be determined based on the success of the first steps, Laughlin said.