Masks will be mandatory indoors in Hamilton businesses as of Monday

A new rule mandating that people wear masks in Hamilton's indoor public spaces will take effect on Monday.

'1+1=2. Those that want to fight the science are suggesting 1+1=3, hence why I call them morons'

Not wearing a mask indoors in Hamilton public spaces will soon carry a fine of $200, although bylaw enforcement officials say the goal is education, not enforcement. (Oksana Kuzmina/stock.adobe.com)

A new rule mandating that people wear masks in Hamilton's indoor public spaces will take effect on Monday.

City council voted 13-3 on Friday to implement the new bylaw, which councillors will examine again in October. The goal is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling people to shop at local businesses.

The law says people have to wear masks or face coverings in Hamilton businesses and facilities. Business owners will have to post signs at their entrances declaring that wearing a mask is mandatory. 

Every adult will need a mask unless a medical condition prevents that person from wearing it — and on that front, the person's word will be taken at face value. Children under two also don't have to wear masks.

Business owners who don't comply can be fined $500, and individuals can be fined $200, although Ken Leendertse, the city's head of bylaw, says the point isn't to fine people.

"You're not going to see the heavy hand of enforcement," he told councillors. "It is all about education."

Councillors said they've gotten numerous letters and emails for and against a mask bylaw, which is similar to bylaws passed by other Ontario municipalities, including Burlington, St. Catharines, Brantford and Toronto.

Not all councillors were in favour. Terry Whitehead (Ward 14, west Mountain) voted against parts of it, specifically around making children wear masks.

Even though the intent isn't to fine, Whitehead says, once the bylaw is in place, it's up to the whims of bylaw enforcement officers.

He also argued that some studies show masks aren't that effective, and that even though public health experts recommend masks, those experts aren't always right. He cited his own exposure to aluminum dust from his earlier job in a mine, which has now led to him having health problems, even though the Ministry of Health previously approved it.

'Practising overreach'

The mask bylaw also will stigmatize people who can't wear masks, he said, or who can't get their kids to wear masks. 

"This is about taking people's rights away based on an imperfect science," he said, "and practising overreach."

Coun. Judi Partridge (Ward 15, Waterdown) opposed it, saying it puts too much onus on business owners.

But the majority of councillors were strongly in favour. Coun. Brenda Johnson (Ward 11, Glanbrook) said some angry residents said they wouldn't vote for her in October 2022 if she voted for a mandatory mask bylaw.

"I said, 'I hope in October 2022 that you're healthy enough to cast that vote.'"

'I wear a mask to respect you'

"I wear a mask to respect you," said Coun. Maria Pearson (Ward 10, lower Stoney Creek). "I ask you to wear a mask to respect me."

Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4, east end) worried that "we're importing the American politicization of public health." We should listen to health experts, he said. 

"Science is real," he said. "One plus one equals two. Those that want to fight the science are suggesting one plus one equals three, hence why I call them morons."

Hamilton has 873 cases of COVID-19, up four from Thursday. Of those, 864 are confirmed and nine are probable.

Forty-four people have died and 806 have recovered, which means 23 are currently known to have COVID-19. 

How they voted

Who voted in favour of a mask bylaw

Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Jason Farr (2), Nrinder Nann (3), Sam Merulla (4), Chad Collins (5), Tom Jackson (6), John-Paul Danko (8), Brad Clark (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Arlene Vanderbeek (13).

Who was opposed

Lloyd Ferguson (12), Judi Partridge (15), Terry Whitehead (14, but only parts of the bylaw).


Esther Pauls (7).

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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