Edmonton city council repeals mask bylaw but pitches new one

People in Edmonton are no longer required to wear masks in indoor public places, after city council agreed Tuesday to repeal its face-covering bylaw.

Council votes to draft new mask bylaw for transit and city facilities only

Edmonton city hall.
Edmonton put its face covering bylaw in place in August 2020 ahead of the province mandating masks in a public health order. (David Bajer/CBC)

People in Edmonton are no longer required to wear masks in indoor public places, after city council agreed Tuesday to repeal the face-covering bylaw.

After nearly four hours of debate during a special meeting, council voted 8-5 to rescind the bylaw, one week after the province lifted its mask requirement.

The majority of councillors said they still support the measure but said that they felt backed into a corner by the province. 

On Tuesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver introduced Bill 4 to amend the Municipal Government Act, which would prevent municipalities from enforcing their own public health measures.

"Our hands are tied by this province," Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said during the meeting. "We are kids, treated like kids by the province." 

The legislature must still debate the proposed amendments in Bill 4 before it's passed. 

New bylaws proposed

Although municipalities wouldn't be able to simply pass their own health restrictions, Bill 4 would allow a municipality to submit a bylaw to the chief medical officer of health for review.

After council voted to repeal the current bylaw, Coun. Andrew Knack proposed the city create a new bylaw, similar to the one council rescinded, to present to the province. 

"I think it's very important for us to take this one final step," Knack said. "I still feel strongly about that, about having it in all indoor places, as noted by many other members of council." 

Coun. Ashley Salvador suggested the city draft a different bylaw, focusing on keeping masks mandatory on public transit and at city-owned facilities, as the Bill 4 states it wouldn't apply to "property owned or leased and operated by a municipality."

The province currently requires masks on public transit, but that measure will be lifted when it enters Step 3 of the plan to ease COVID-19 health restrictions.

"I think we heard fairly clearly that folks who are using transit really appreciate having that additional protection given the close quarters," Salvador said.

"So regardless of whether the province decides to change that measure next week, in two weeks, I think having that in place for Edmontonians is an important step."

Council agreed to put both of them in motion, with administration expected to return March 14 with the new draft bylaws. 

Coun. Erin Rutherford said the city should retain its own rules.

"I am really here to make a decision based on integrity, courage and public health," she said. "I won't back down to political pressure."

Confusion at city facilities

During the meeting, city managers recommended council rescind the face-covering bylaw.

Catrin Owen, deputy manager of communications and engagement, said staff at city facilities have reported confusion from patrons. 

Although 90 per cent of patrons at rec centres and libraries are wearing masks, a few are not and some are showing aggressive behaviour, Owen said.

"There have been a number of incidents of non-compliance, including yelling and swearing," Owen told council. 

While staff offer patrons masks, not everyone will wear one.

"If patrons refuse they're permitted to enter the facility in order to not escalate the situation," Owen said.

Adam Laughlin, manager of integrated infrastructure services, said feedback from the city's business improvement areas indicated most people wanted the city to lift the requirement. 

Many businesses are worried that a municipal mandate puts significant burden on businesses, without provincial backing, Laughlin said.