Wood Buffalo passes mandatory mask bylaw, takes effect if region has 50 active COVID-19 cases
Region currently has 26 active cases of COVID-19
Wood Buffalo council passed a mandatory mask bylaw Tuesday, which will only be enacted when Alberta Health Services confirms 50 or more active cases of COVID-19 in the region.
Currently, there are 26 active cases in the region.
If there are 50 cases, the bylaw will be triggered and will stay in place for 30 days. If there are fewer than 50 cases after 30 days, the mask requirement will be lifted. But if the cases haven't come down, the mandatory masks will stay in place.
Council was divided, with the bylaw passing in a 7-4 vote.
Councillors Sheila Lalonde, Keith McGrath, Verna Murphy and Jeff Peddle opposed the bylaw.
First-time offenders of the bylaw could be given a $100 fine, which doubles for a second offence.
The bylaw applies to indoor public places and in public vehicles.
There are several exemptions to the bylaw, including children under five, people who unable to use a mask or people assisting another person with a disability, where wearing a face mask would hinder the ability to provide help.
As well, people can temporarily remove the mask to eat or drink in a designated area, exercise, or attend a religious service.
Murphy said she was worried the bylaw would cause harassment and aggression between citizens who were and weren't wearing masks in public.
She said she's experienced harassment and intimidation based on her decision to be in public with or without a mask.
"They call me vulgar names on the sidewalk because I don't have a mask on. Or they call me names in the grocery store because I do have a mask on," said Murphy, who said she has lived with a compromised immune system for the last 28 years.
"Jesus, people, just wear your effing masks … or don't. But it is at the end of the day your decision."
Peddle said he was divided on the topic, but ultimately voted against the bylaw, mainly because he didn't feel the municipality would be able to enforce it properly and he felt it's an issue that should be addressed by the province.
We have a moral responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable.- Mayor Don Scott
Coun. Phil Meagher, who voted in favour of the bylaw, said he felt the masks would make the community safer, and he wanted to implement it "for the kids."
McGrath said people should be trusted to make responsible decisions on their own, and that imposing the bylaw would infringe on the rights of residents.
He added that any business that wanted to enforce mandatory masks has already done so.
"I feel our enforcement officers have better things to do with their valuable time than giving fines to citizens for something that is an individual matter," McGrath said.
Mayor Don Scott said his preference would have been for the province to deal with mandating masks. But regardless, he said he thought it was important for public health.
"We have a moral responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable," Scott said.
He added an amendment to the bylaw that would force any public transit users to wear a mask regardless of the number of people with COVID-19 in the region. That passed unanimously.
Council will review the bylaw by Jan. 31.