Anti-mask group speaks out against Sudbury's health directives
The online group has grown to include hundreds of people in the region
A new online group is advocating against public health directives surrounding the use of face masks in public spaces.
In recent weeks, the group Sudbury Ontario Freedom Keepers has swelled to include hundreds of members.
Those listed as members of the group include people from Sudbury's healthcare sector, education system and hospitality industry.
While face masks are not currently mandatory, Sudbury Public Health & District has instructed that businesses have policies requiring masks or other face coverings, and to make efforts to ensure people wear them — including through signage and verbal reminders.
Many people in this city can't wear a mask.— Tena Jones, founding member of Sudbury Ontario Freedom Keepers
Tena Jones is a founding member and administrator of the Facebook group.
She says the city's health directives to wear face masks while indoors and in public are in violation of people's freedoms. Jones said the group hopes to "peacefully educate the public" on its stance on masks.
"Many people in this city can't wear a mask," she said.
Jones said she has asthma, which makes it difficult for her to wear a mask.
'I'm standing against that'
"For those many who can't .... we're being rejected from coming into a store or a place of business and we're being turned away from being able to do things that we've done for four months prior to the masking, when the virus was supposedly at its peak," she said.
"We used to go everywhere not having to go into line, not having to be directed like cattle into a store, to be told where to stand, which direction to walk in. That is just wrong and I'm standing against that and so is the rest of the members of our group."
We're not asking people to disclose that medical reason, that's their own personal information.— Burgess Hawkins, Sudbury Public Health & Districts
Burgess Hawkins is the manager of the health protection division with Sudbury Public Health & Districts.
He says while masks and other face coverings are some of the best ways for the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people can't be forced to wear them.
When public health initially put out its face mask directives, Hawkins said he received a flurry of calls from business owners concerned with the new policy. However, as time has passed, he said, the number of calls has dropped as people have adjusted to the new expectations.
The system, Hawkins said, is based on good faith.
'COVID-19 is going to be around for a while'
"If a person says that they can't wear a mask then you take them for their word for it, you know, that they have a medical reason. We're not asking people to disclose that medical reason, that's their own personal information," he said.
But ultimately, he said, it's the business owner's choice on whether or not to serve a customer who enters without a mask.
"We realize there are people who can't wear a mask [and] there are people who do not wish to wear a mask. What we're asking for is people to wear masks to protect other people," he said, "COVID[-19] is going to be around for a while."
with files from Sam Juric