Toronto

TTC board member denounces anti-mask protest as 'political stunt'

Protesters who rode the TTC without face coverings Tuesday while flouting mandatory mask regulations meant to help contain the spread of COVID-19 are doing so for “attention-getting and silliness,” says one city councillor.

Officials did not issue tickets to protesters, instead focusing on ‘education,’ spokesperson says

Protesters affiliated with a group opposed to the wearing of masks as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19 rode the TTC Tuesday, but were not ticketed. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Protesters who rode the TTC without face coverings Tuesday while flouting mandatory mask regulations meant to help contain the spread of COVID-19 are doing so for "attention-getting and silliness," says one city councillor.

The group's antics amounted to "a political stunt," said Coun. Shelley Carroll, a member of the TTC board.

"I hope that people who want to safely ride the TTC understand that we're going to do our level best to make sure this little movement that started today is a short-lived one."

A rule making non-medical masks or face coverings mandatory on the TTC took effect last week. Similarly, Toronto city council has made face coverings mandatory in all indoor public spaces to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

That temporary bylaw went into effect across the city Tuesday, though officials encouraged residents to begin following the order immediately when it was enacted last week. Exemptions are available for young children or people with health problems.

A recent World Health Organization study has confirmed that face masks are effective in reducing the spread of the virus. Provincial health officials and Premier Doug Ford have all been advocating that Ontarians who are able wear masks or a face covering do so while in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told CBC News that a group of protesters boarded the subway Tuesday morning and rode from Dundas Station to Bloor-Yonge Station before disembarking.

Green said the protesters were not ticketed. "Our enforcement is being done in a phased approach. For the immediate term, we are opting for education and information over ticketing," he said.

Fare inspectors will not enforce face coverings

Carroll said the plan is for the TTC to be as "firm as possible" with groups like these protesters, adding that "these people will probably find themselves making visits to TTC court."

TTC officials say the vast majority of people on transit in Toronto are wearing masks of their own volition. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Green, however, was far less committal about enforcement, only saying it could occur down the line. He did not specify how enforcement could take place, but did say that fare inspectors would not inspect or enforce face coverings.

Green also said that while fare inspectors have been focused on education about "paying a proper fare" for the last several weeks through the pandemic, they will "resume ticketing for fare evasion in August."

When asked why inspectors would ticket for fares and not face coverings, Green said, "The difference is when you're riding the TTC you're receiving a service, and you're expected to pay for that service."

Green also said that the fine for not wearing a mask would be $235, and falls under the bylaw for "failing to comply with posted signage."

Protesters linked to widely-viewed hospital video

At the start of the protest at Yonge and Dundas Square Tuesday morning, a man named Chris Sky told CBC News he was there as part of a group called "Mother's Against Distancing."

On his Facebook page, Sky said he had launched a Facebook group with that name back in June.

"MAD is taking off to new heights," he wrote on Monday, while also referring to "our very own" Letitia Montana — who similarly appeared at Tuesday's protest.

Montana's video about being denied service at St. Joseph's Health Care Centre because she wouldn't wear a mask garnered millions of views when she posted it on Twitter last weekend.

Sky's social media posts also show him speaking at anti-lockdown protests outside Queen's Park in recent weeks.

Green did say the "vast majority" of people riding the TTC are already wearing face coverings, with 84 per cent of people observed by officials Monday at Kennedy Station wearing one.

He also pointed out that people who wear masks should respect that some people can't do so for health reasons, and not to automatically jump to the conclusion that people are flouting the bylaw.

"There will always be those who qualify for an exemption … and we will respect those," he said.

About the Author

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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