Hamilton's board of health votes to make public mask wearing mandatory indoors

Hamilton is a step closer to having a bylaw that makes it mandatory for people to wear a mask or face covering indoors when they're in public.

City council still has to OK it, but the new rule would start on July 20

Hamilton's board of health has approved a bylaw for mandatory indoor mask wearing. It's set to take effect on July 20. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton is a step closer to having a bylaw that makes it mandatory for people to wear a mask or face covering indoors when they're in public.

The city's board of health voted 13-2 Friday for a bylaw that would see a $200 fine for people not wearing a mask while in local businesses or facilities. Those in favour say this gives more protection to workers, makes it easier for businesses to enforce, and allows places to safely reopen without spreading COVID-19.

"We can't shut this country down for a year," said Maria Pearson, Ward 10 (lower Stoney Creek) councillor. "We can't afford it."

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 (east end) councillor, said the argument that it infringes civil liberties is "nonsense." So is people "politicizing" the issue.

People have been wearing seat-belts for years, he said, and when they do, "they're accepting some liberties have been taken away from them."

"The fact that they're looking at a global pandemic to have this nonsense surface just goes to show that this new wave of keyboard morons who are masquerading as journalists, politicians, scientists, is truly frightening … Anything Trump says, run the other way."

City council still has to ratify the bylaw on July 17, although the same councillors will be voting. Once that happens, it will take effect July 20. 

Only two councillors — Lloyd Ferguson (Ward 12, Ancaster) and Esther Pauls (Ward 7, central Mountain) — were opposed.

Ferguson said the move makes no sense when Hamilton's COVID-19 cases are falling. Masks weren't mandatory at the height of the pandemic, he said, so why make them mandatory now? 

"Leaders are supposed to spread hope, not fear," he said. "I heard nothing but fear today."

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, medical officer of health, says research isn't conclusive, but it increasingly shows masks help slow the spread of the virus. And infections often don't show up in case numbers for two weeks, so by the time the numbers increase, it's too late.

Pauls said she prefers education over legislation, and if people were just educated about the benefits of masks, they would happily wear them. 

With the bylaw, Hamilton joins a growing number of cities that have either enacted or are looking at a bylaw, including St. Catharines, Toronto and Kingston. 

The bylaw also includes a $500 fine for businesses that don't post signs saying masks are mandatory. It includes an exemption for people with medical conditions, or for kids under two-years-old. 

The board will review it in three months.

Twenty-seven people are known to have COVID-19 in Hamilton right now. 

Since the pandemic started, 861 people are recorded as having the virus (853 confirmed, eight probable). Forty-four people have died and 790 have recovered. 


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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