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Yellowknife city council passes bylaw requiring masks on public transit

The bylaw originally required people to also wear masks in all city facilities, but was amended Monday evening to just include public transit. 

Bylaw expected to come into effect Aug. 31

All of Yellowknife's city councillors, except one, voted in favour of a draft bylaw that makes wearing masks on public transit mandatory. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)

Yellowknife city council has passed a bylaw to make it mandatory for people to wear masks on public transit while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The draft bylaw, which originally required people to also wear masks in all city facilities, was passed during two city council meetings Monday. 

During a video-conference council meeting Monday evening, Coun. Julian Morse moved to amend the original draft bylaw.

He said that while mandating wearing masks on public transit would increase the capacity on buses, according to the chief public health officer, it's unclear if mandating masks in public facilities could increase their capacity. For that reason, he moved to change the draft bylaw to not include public facilities for now.

All councillors except one, Rommel Silverio, voted in favour of the amended bylaw.

Silverio, who is also a registered nurse, said he had concerns that the masks people could wear were non-medical. According to Mayor Rebecca Alty, a mask can be medical or non-medical or any other face covering that completely covers the mouth, nose and face.

In April, the N.W.T. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer said it was recommending residents use reusable or disposable cloth face coverings when in public places, though it's never been mandated. 

According to Mayor Rebecca Alty, a mask can be medical or non-medical or any other face covering that completely covers the mouth, nose and face. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Bus capacity will almost triple

Mayor Alty said making masks mandatory on public transit means bus capacity can increase from nine — mandated by the chief public health officer — to 25. She said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola approved that new capacity Monday afternoon. 

Alty said with school starting Monday and many high school students relying on city buses, "it will be chaos ... if we don't mandate" wearing masks.

The bylaw includes a $100 fine for those found not wearing a mask, but the city officials said they plan on being lenient at the beginning. 

"We don't plan on going in and fining people left, right and centre," city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellet said during the council meeting Monday evening.

She said the city doesn't want to have to turn people away when they need to take the bus, so it's hoping to provide a few disposable masks for those that don't have one.  

But she said with the new bylaw, people need to understand that having a mask available for themselves at all times is very important. 

Residents welcome idea of bylaw

The CBC spoke to several people in Yellowknife last week about whether they'd be OK with the city passing the bylaw.

Liz Jackson is for it. She says she wears her mask whenever she can.

"I don't have mine on right now outside, but when I do go into grocery stores and everything, I like to wear one out of respect for the people working there," she said.

Denis Drygeese, who's from Łutsel Kʼe, says most people there aren't considering the idea of making masks mandatory. 

"We're so isolated where we're at, so we feel untouchable," he said, adding that it's not a great way think. 

He says if the city or his community made it mandatory to wear masks in some public indoor spaces, he would. 

"You know, people are saying that we're safe, but you're never safe from any kind of disease, he said. "If it's going to be mandatory, if that's what the city decides, then it is what it is."

With files from Alyssa Mosher, Hannah Paulson and Avery Zingel

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