Edmonton

Edmonton offers exemption cards to mandatory mask bylaw

Connor Miller-Stephen went to Clareview Community Recreation Centre in northeast Edmonton first thing Saturday morning to ask for an exemption to city's mandatory mask bylaw. 

'It's completely on the honour system,' says Jon Dziadyk

Edmontonians with this card are exempt from wearing a mask or face covering in an indoor public space. (CBC News)

Connor Miller-Stephen went to Clareview Community Recreation Centre in northeast Edmonton first thing Saturday morning to ask for an exemption to city's mandatory mask bylaw. 

Within a few minutes, he had an exemption card in his wallet. 

Miller-Stephen, a security guard, said he did not have to provide any medical documentation to obtain the city-issued card.

"I went in and said, 'I heard that you can get mask exemption cards here' and the lady was like, 'Yes you can,' and she hands me one and that was it," Miller-Stephen said. 

"She didn't need any other info. She didn't need a document or anything."

Face masks have been mandatory in all indoor spaces in Edmonton since Aug. 1. But a program brought forward by the city this past weekend provides exemptions to those who are unable to wear a mask due to physical or mental health conditions. 

Edmontonians can go to any recreation centre in the city and can get an orange card that states, "I cannot wear a mask or face covering" in bold white letters.

The card allows them to walk in malls, grocery stores and other indoor spaces mask-free. 

According to the city, each city recreation centre received a pack of 500 cards. On Saturday, Clareview issued 120 cards. 

Miller-Stephen said he has anxiety that prevents him from wearing a mask for too long. 

"I have had panic attacks and whatnot before. And being in the security profession, I'm indoors a lot and it's eight hours a day and after a certain period of time it feels just really hard to focus," he said.

"I felt dizzy. I felt like I was going to pass out and not be aware of where I was, that kind of thing."

City councillor Jon Dziadyk said the mask exemption program is in place to help ease tensions around compliance. Edmontonians with genuine medical conditions should have proof of exemption, he said. 

"Many people have different opinions about these rules," he said.

"It's important that if we want them to be complied with, we want people to remain civil to each other, that those that have a legitimate reason to be exempt, actually have proof if they choose to show it."

Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, said the exemption undermines the intention of the bylaw completely and "makes it useless."

He said rare neurosensory conditions like Trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve problem which causes excruciating pain in the face, can prevent people from wearing a mask.

Markland said, however, medical conditions which would prevent someone from safely wearing a face covering are not common. 

"People with legitimate concerns — which are very rare — are important aspects to consider but I think that issue becomes magnified and taken advantage of by people who just choose not to want to wear them," he said. 

Dziadyk said the city does not have a list of conditions for the exemption. 

"It's completely on the honour system," he said. "There is no additional screening. You request it, we trust you and we hope that nobody is abusing the system," he said.  

Miller-Stephen said if getting a card was easy and that left him wondering if there is a point to the city's bylaw. 

"If they are handing out cards to anybody who needs one then does that not render the bylaw itself ineffective," he said. 

"If that's the case why don't they revoke the bylaw?"

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