Diverging opinions were aired again on Red Deer’s mandatory masking bylaw during city council’s debate on extending the rules for another three months.
On Monday, the masking rules that the city had approved on Nov. 30 were up for renewal, as the bylaw is set to end on March 1, according to a council approved sunset clause.
Meanwhile, the provincial masking bylaw that was announced by Premier Jason Kenney on Dec. 8 will still be in effect.
Over the last few months, Coun. Vesna Higham said she’s been contacted by many people who say they have valid health reasons for not wearings face coverings but are still being denied entry into stores — and even health clinics.
Higham understands that private businesses need to protect the health of customers and staff and have the right to refuse anyone service. But she doesn’t think people with respiratory issues, autism, and developmental disabilities should be excluded from stores and clinics just because they can’t wear masks.
They could potentially suffer harm “to their health and well-being” — despite both provincial and municipal masking rules allowing for some medical exceptions to this policy, added Higham.
The city’s emergency management and corporate security manager Karen Mann said the province has been encouraging people who can’t wear masks for health reasons to contact businesses/clinics beforehand to learn what options are available.
“We would benefit from some compassion on both sides of the debate,” said Higham.
Councillor Lawrence Lee felt council will be wasting a lot of time and effort bringing its municipal mandatory masking bylaw back for three-month extensions as the pandemic goes on. He instead suggested the municipal masking policy be extended for as long as the province’s masking rules apply, since the provincial rules supersede the municipal bylaw, in any case.
Most other councillors supported the city maintaining its own masking rules and not solely relying on the provincial government to make the right decision in future.
Coun. Frank Wong noted Alberta was the last province in Canada to implement masking-wearing rules because the government had been afraid to step into the fray before Dec. 8.
As a result, “there was an abdication of public health policy,” said Coun. Ken Johnston. He added, “It was like the house was on fire and the provincial fire department wasn’t responding.”
Higham expressed concern about new quicker-spreading virus variants. She noted if the province decided to rescind its masking policy for whatever reason prematurely, she would feel better knowing the municipality still had its own rules in place.
But Coun. Tanya Handley argued that the city’s mask bylaw was “redundant” since health care is the province’s domain.
While city council opted to extend municipal masking rules for transit and civic spaces until June. 1 on Monday, the bylaw extension for mandatory masking in indoor public spaces only got two readings. It must come back to council again later this month for a third reading.
Handley’s objection meant the public must again have time to express opinions on this issue before a final vote is taken.