London

London high school teacher calls face masks an 'egregious and unforgivable form of child abuse'

A London public high school teacher has written an email to city hall demanding politicians and health authorities quash the city's pandemic face mask bylaw, calling masks an 'egregious and unforgivable form of child abuse and physical assault.'

Larry Farquharson wears a mask at work, calling it 'a condition of my employment'

Larry Farquharson, who wrote a letter to city council, calling mandatory face coverings 'child abuse' works at H. B. Beal Secondary School in London, Ont., the first high school in the city to have a case of COVID-19. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

A London public high school teacher has written an email to a city hall committee asking politicians and health authorities to quash the city's controversial pandemic face-covering bylaw, calling masks an "egregious and unforgivable form of child abuse and physical assault."

Larry Farquharson said he always wears a mask while interacting with students as a teacher-librarian at H.B. Beal Secondary School, the first public school in the city to have a confirmed case of COVID-19. He wrote the email dated Sept. 21 to the city's strategic priorities and policy committee as a private citizen. The email was included in a packet of public documents for committee members to consider. 

The wearing of masks in indoor public places is recommended by federal, provincial and local health authorities and, in some cases, legislated by some municipal governments, including the City of London.

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the science behind non-medical face coverings and they remain the subject of vigorous debate. 

Some studies suggest non-medical face coverings, such as a reusable cloth mask, can reduce transmission of the virus from the wearer to others. However, such masks do not protect the wearer from potentially acquiring an infection from other people. 

Teacher says mask wearing 'an act of political theatre'

H.B. Beal Secondary School (Thames Valley District School Board/tvdsb.ca)

In his email, Farquharson called the campaign to legislate mask wearing a "shameful farce, a charade, an act of political theatre" that's more about enforcing "obedience and compliance" than it is about public health. 

He also likened children wearing masks to "involuntary self-torture," calling it "an egregious and unforgivable form of child abuse and physical assault."

CBC News reached Farquharson at work on Friday and while he wouldn't agree to a recorded interview, he did take the opportunity to explain his point of view for the record. 

"If I were to put my hand over a child's face, that would be a form of assault," he said Friday. "I see little difference between the two."

Farquharson said he wrote the letter as a way of speaking out over something he sees as a form of political control that trickles down from adults to children, who shouldn't be required to wear masks.  

"When there are individual children that don't want to wear a mask, they are ostracized and bullied," he said. "I think that is part of the politicization." 

"The debate has become so politicized, you can't have a rational conversation."

Farquharson said he doesn't want to wear a mask because he believes it restricts his airflow and lowers the amount of oxygen he can take in, something experts say is a claim that has no truth

"I don't know why there is a question. It's not natural," he said. "I think it's uncomfortable; scratchy."

Wears a mask at work, but not the grocery store

Larry Farquharson said while he always wears a mask while interacting with students at his work at H.B. Beal Secondary School, he refuses to wear one in public places such as the grocery store. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Farquharson said he doesn't wear a mask in public places such as the grocery store and he would not specify whether he had a medical exemption. 

"I don't think that's any of your business," he said.

While he always wears a mask while on the job interacting with students at H.B. Beal Secondary School, Farquharson suggested his colleagues likely don't know about his views. He said he's never discussed them at work because he doesn't want to risk making anyone uncomfortable. 

"It's not a topic of conversation," he said. "You want to maintain a collegial environment."

Beyond awkward conversation, COVID-19 is also deadly. The condition caused by the coronavirus has killed thousands of people across Canada, but Farquharson said he disagreed with calling the virus "deadly."

"Those human experiences are individually tragic, but on an aggregate, the data doesn't support this as a deadly virus," he said. "That's not to diminish those deaths."

Farquharson said he isn't "anti-mask" and finds the term derogatory. Instead, he calls himself "for choice," and supports anyone who wants to wear a mask or not by their own accord. 

"I am for anyone who wants to be able to breathe freely," he said, noting that he doesn't oppose other people wearing face coverings in public. 

"I support that," he said. "I'm not saying they shouldn't have the choice. I should have the choice." 

Board says masks are an 'important measure'

Farquharson's employer, the Thames Valley District School Board, said Friday while some people, including staff, might have different views on wearing masks, the board thinks that, when combined with hand hygiene and physical distancing, it is an "important measure" to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

"The use of face masks to reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 in our communities is strongly recommended by public health officials at all levels of government and has been mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Thames Valley District School Board," Education director Mark Fisher said in an email. 

"Thames Valley considers all personnel matters confidential and expects all staff to follow and support the implementation of Board policies and guidelines as a condition of employment."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

with files from Rebecca Zandbergen and Kate Dubinksi

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