Masks could soon be mandatory indoors, on Grand River Transit

Wearing a mask on Grand River Transit and in indoor public spaces could soon be mandatory in Waterloo region, if two draft bylaws pass at regional council Monday afternoon.

Draft bylaws on mandatory mask-wearing will be discussed at regional council Monday

A rider wears a mask as they wait for an OC Transpo bus in Ottawa June 15, 2020, the first day wearing one was mandatory on the capital's public transit service. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Wearing a mask or face covering in indoor public spaces (including buses) could soon be mandatory in Waterloo region, if two draft bylaws are passed by regional council on Monday.

The list of relevant indoor public spaces include places such as museums, retail stores and restaurants. Universities, schools, hospitals and other government buildings are excluded. 

Young children and those who have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a mask will be exempt from the new rules. Anyone with a disability would not have to prove it, regional chair Karen Redman told reporters Friday. 

"If bylaws are passed, it will provide greater certainty for individuals and businesses as we continue into our recovery phase," said Redman. 

Individual people would be responsible for ensuring they have a mask on inside public spaces. But business owners would also have a responsibility to post signage about the bylaw, and to ensure that no one enters their premises without a mask or face covering. 

Both police and bylaw officers would have the power to enforce the bylaws, according to the council meeting agenda.

As of Friday, more than a dozen people had registered to speak at the special council meeting.

Correspondence from the public included in the meeting agenda shows a range of opinions on the matter. Some vehemently oppose the bylaws, while others are strongly in favour. Some want the region to stick with a strong recommendation about mask-wearing, rather than making it a mandatory rule. 

Mayor pushes for broader rules

Originally, regional staff had been directed to draft a mask bylaw that would only apply to Grand River Transit. Kitchener mayor and regional councillor Berry Vrbanovic pushed for a broader mask bylaw and an expedited timeline.

"We are in a health emergency, and we can't take that kind of time," said Vrbanovic.

In Toronto, masks are already required on public transit. A broader policy that applies to indoor public spaces goes into effect tomorrow.

Other parts of the province, including Kingston, Windsor and Guelph, also have policies in place that require people to wear masks inside commercial enterprises. 

Last week, mayors in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area asked the province to make a mandatory mask policy, but Premier Doug Ford rejected the idea

Vrbanovic said he, too, thinks a common approach across the province would have been faster and easier than leaving the policies up to individual municipalities. 

Why wear a mask

The point of wearing a mask is to protect others from one's infectious respiratory droplets, according to Public Health Ontario. It could also prevent other droplets from landing on your face, the government agency said in a fact sheet.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, effective masks should:

  • Be made of at least two layers of a tightly woven fabric, such as cotton or linen.
  • Allow for easy breathing.
  • Fit securely over the head.
  • Be large enough to fit comfortably over the nose and mouth without gaping.

Although mandatory mask policies have faced heavy criticism by some people in parts of the United States, Vrbanovic thinks people in the region will generally be receptive.

"It's often said that when I wear a mask it protects you, when you wear a mask, it protects me, and when we do it together we're protecting our community," he said.

"And that's really what this is all about."

If the bylaws are passed, staff have recommended they take effect July 13.