Manitoba

Make face masks mandatory on Winnipeg Transit, petition demands

A petition demanding the City of Winnipeg make face masks mandatory on public transit was launched Monday and is picking up speed.

As more people take buses in fall and winter they want a sense of safety, says Zach Fleisher

Tabatha Funk agrees with a mandatory mask policy for Winnipeg Transit, saying it is too difficult to be socially distanced on busy buses. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A petition demanding the City of Winnipeg make face masks mandatory on public transit was launched Monday and is picking up speed.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 1,500 signatures were on it. The goal is 2,500.

"It's an easy policy to make and I'm hopeful though hopeful that the city will pursue it," said Zach Fleisher, who authored the petition and is the former director of communications for the city's transit union.

Walking and biking have been his modes of transport through the summer, but come late fall and winter, "I'm looking at a situation where I'm going to have to be back on the bus and I think a lot of other people are going to be in that situation," Fleisher said.

"And they want to feel and be assured of a sense of safety."

Zach Fleisher started the petition on Monday morning and it quickly gained traction. (Submitted by Tanya Palson)

Fleisher listed more than a dozen cities across the country that have moved from a recommendation for masks on public transit to a mandatory directive to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax.

"Winnipeg is the last city over 150,000 to not yet have mandatory masks on public transit. While we have recommended mask use, the usage of masks on transit remains mixed," the petition notes.

"We need to see civic leadership from Mayor Brian Bowman and Winnipeg city council to protect our front line workers, transit operators and students who rely on public transit."

Tabatha Funk, who was waiting for a bus by CF Polo Park shopping centre on Tuesday morning, said she fully supports Fleisher's idea.

"I think it should be mandatory. I don't think there is a way to socially distance on transit, so just to be extra safe, put a mask on. It's not that hard," she said.

While there is no way to enforce the usage, short of ticketing people, Fleisher believes social pressure would be enough of an incentive for people to follow the rules.

"What we've seen in other cities [where masks were made mandatory], is they've gone from about 50 per cent usage to about 90 per cent," he said.

"It's about adapting people to take the steps that they can for combating the virus. A recommendation works for some people, [but] when you bring in a mandatory mask policy, people listen up and are more likely to wear them."

As cases of COVID-19 have soared in Manitoba over the past weeks, many retailers have made masks mandatory. Walmart put that rule in place at all of its stores across Canada on Aug. 12, while Superstore and No Frills locations are implementing it on Aug. 29.

After pressure from the public and teachers' union, the province announced last week that masks would be mandatory in all schools from Grade 4 to 12.

The city has previously said that public health orders currently do not mandate the use of masks on transit, but Fleisher said it doesn't need to wait for an order from provincial health officials to change the policy.

It can do so under the transit bylaw, which also sets rules for passengers, covering things like substances and acceptable behaviour.

"They have the power to do this," Fleisher said.

He has already had Couns. Shawn Nason and Brian Mayes reach out to say they would support a mandatory masks policy. Coun. Jeff Browaty called on the city back in mid-May to make that move.

"I think a big part of restoring confidence in public transit is showing support of it," Fleisher said.

"Clusters and outbreaks happen and anything we can do to to slow or stop those outbreaks, I think, is helpful."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson

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