a

Lady Justice: To Mask, or Not to Mask

‘To mask, or not to mask’: that is the question. It’s not quite as existential as Hamlet’s question, although to some, it may be. Especially if the holes in the mask are not big enough…

As we approach Halloween (formerly Hallowe’en), that is the question many ask themselves. Especially for their young children. Young children may get excited and forget the rules of the road. If they do wear a mask, make sure it does not restrict their peripheral vision as that may result in a reduced ability to see oncoming traffic or cause a tripping hazard. One option is to cut larger holes in costume masks. Even better, children can wear make-up instead. For visibility, wear bright costumes or add reflective materials such as safety tape to make them more visible on the sidewalks and roads. Motorists (especially those that may not celebrate Halloween): please keep this in mind on Monday.

You or your child may feel that a mask is obligatory for a true representation of the character or costume. Superheroes are popular on Halloween. You may not imagine your Hawk Girl or Cat Woman representation without a mask. Similarly, Spiderman and Batman without their identity concealed could not have accomplished as much in their ongoing missions to protect humanity. Although, the big one — Superman — brilliantly disguised himself with a pair of glasses.

As for real Superheroes who wear masks, doctors and nurses comes to mind. Unless they are wearing a hazmat suit, those masks do not cover the eyes. Also, your firefighters have full-face gear, which is not needed unless they are dealing with a major fire, so most Halloween firefighters are happy with helmets.

As I think of the perfect Halloween costume for Halloween 2022, I am reminded of March of 2020. A global mask shortage resulted from the declaration of the pandemic. Friends, family, and YouTube at large took on the ‘MacGyver’ role to create their own masks, using anything from T-shirts and elastics to string and tea towels. Who can forget the plastic bottle face shields?

During that time, I was accused of being a thief for wearing a mask, as if I was about to go rob a bank. I then made a post on my LinkedIn account which received many empathetic replies, but one stood out in particular: it was from a profile of a drawing of a hijab. This LinkedIn user turned out to be a Canadian citizen (with dual citizenship) in Edmonton who wore a face covering as part of her Muslim religion. She also happened to be a recent widow with children to support and held a law degree from southern Asia.

A year or so into the pandemic, many law graduates from Canadian universities were having their offers withdrawn due to the market uncertainty created by COVID-19. The already insurmountable obstacles that internationally trained professionals encountered in their careers in Canada were multiplied. Fortunately, as our Law Society reduced the qualification period from 12 to 8 months, and given I already had a remote and paperless office, I offered this young lawyer from Pakistan an articling student position so that she could achieve her Canadian dream.

My empathy increased exponentially for those wearing face coverings. It takes immense courage to do so in a society where it is not the norm. I support respecting a woman’s religious freedom (including her freedom from religion).

The recent protests in Iran sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who refused to wear her hijab, made me think of my older daughter, who is the same age. In that society, women are fighting desperately to have the choice on whether to wear a face covering. Some Muslim women want it; others don’t. What is important is choice. We must remember that, in any society, someone may be wearing (or not wearing) a face covering for reasons that include expressing their religion, fighting oppression, protecting their elderly parents, because they have a weak immune system, to be a good neighbor, or to be the best Batman.

Hopefully, this Halloween, in a free country like Canada, whether someone wears a Halloween mask or any other face covering, we can make a collective effort to treat them with decency. After all, it is better to trick or treat than to treat others with disrespect.

Donna Purcell, K.C., (aka Lady Justice) is a Central Alberta lawyer and Chief Innovation Officer with Donna Purcell QC Law. If you have legal questions, contact dpurcell@dpqclaw.com.