Dozens speak against Edmonton's mask bylaw at city hall meeting

City councillors got a steady stream of dissent at a community and public services committee on Friday about the city's move to extend its face covering bylaw.

'This is fear-mongering here,' one speaker said

An employee at a shop off Whyte Avenue wears a face covering at work. (Sam Martin/CBC)

City councillors got a steady stream of criticism at a community and public services committee Friday about the city's move to extend its face-covering bylaw. 

City administration is asking council to extend the bylaw until May, as the current one expires Dec. 31.  

By Friday afternoon, more than 112 people signed up to speak in front of the committee, but only 49 showed up virtually to give their opinion.

The ones who joined the meeting spoke, sometimes harshly, against the mandatory measure.

Melissa Dempster said she can't wear a mask and people have confronted her in public. 

"This mask bylaw has done nothing but create anger, fear, judgment and division among the people of this city," Dempster said. "Do you have any idea how scary it is to go out in the city now?" 

Dempster did not say why she doesn't wear one.

Other speakers said they believe mandating masks is a violation of human rights and created an environment of discrimination. 

Several are convinced wearing masks has caused more harm than good and that the science behind the pandemic is flawed, dismissing the efficacy of face coverings to curb the spread of the virus. 

Health authorities and experts have repeatedly stated that mask wearing is critical to limiting the spread of COVID-19. This month, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam updated her guidance to recommend the use of three-layer non-medical masks. 

Jodie Foster said she believed the city and media were misrepresenting the case numbers. 

"This is fear-mongering here," Foster said. "It's so wrong what they're doing to people." 

On Friday, Alberta reported 907 new cases of COVID-19 — marking the second time the province has reported over 900 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day. 

On Thursday, the province reported 10 deaths, which was the most for a single day in Alberta since the pandemic began. There have now been 398 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the province.

Some speakers at the meeting called the entire pandemic a hoax and a lie. Earlier this year, Canadian researchers found conspiracy theories about COVID-19 were spreading at an alarming rate across the country — and warned misinformation shared online may lead to devastating consequences and could push Canadians to shun important safety measures.

Pathologist Dr. Roger Hodkinson, CEO of Western Medical Assessments — a company that conducts medical examinations for lawyers and insurance adjusters — called the mask bylaw and reaction to the pandemic "simply outrageous."

"This is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public," Hodkinson told the committee. 

Toward the end of the meeting, several people were still waiting to speak, so the committee extended its 5:30 deadline until everyone who wanted — could have their turn.

Chair of the committee, Aaron Paquette, remained diplomatic and thanked people for their suggestions. 

"The people who've been waiting all day should have an opportunity to speak today," Paquette said. 

Mike Nickel, one of three councillors who voted against the mandatory mask move, insisted the committee set another day to hear more speakers. 

"I will not be satisfied with closing off speakers today."

Jon Dziadyk and Tony Caterina also voted against the bylaw that went into effect Aug. 1.

​​​The committee agreed to schedule another meeting for Nov. 19 to hear from the public. 

"We want to hear from everyone, and that is also why we scheduled another day," Paquette said.