Red Deer city councillor Michael Dawe has taken some heat for his support of a mandatory mask bylaw for indoor public spaces, to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer city councillor Michael Dawe has taken some heat for his support of a mandatory mask bylaw for indoor public spaces, to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer city councillor feels threatened over mandatory masking bylaw

Council grapples with how to overcome hostility, create more unity

The hostility that’s erupted in the community over mask use has hit uncomfortably close for Red Deer city Councillor Michael Dawe.

He recounted during Monday’s city council meeting being harassed and threatened by someone opposed to his support for a mandatory masking bylaw for indoor public spaces.

While the great majority of citizens who sent city council some 700 messages respectfully laid out their positions on both sides of the issue, Dawe estimates about five per cent used aggressive language and profanities.

“I had a guy go off the deep end. He said some grossly inappropriate things about me on Facebook, so I blocked him.

“Then he began phoning me at home,” recalled Dawe, who was unnerved that this person had his home number and knew where he lived.

When the angry individual told him: “You really piss me off and I’m going to put a stop to it,” the councillor said he felt threatened.

He called the police, who ended up speaking to the man about his intentions.

Never in all his years in public office — including time spent on the former Red Deer hospital board — has Dawe before felt his stance on any issue could imperil his life.

“You don’t go into public life in a place like Red Deer and expect that,” he said Tuesday.

The city’s mandatory masking bylaw for indoor public places gained unanimous initial support from council on Monday.

If granted final approved this Monday, the masking rules will apply within city limits — with some exceptions for restaurants and child care spaces, etc.

More: Here’s what the proposed masking bylaw covers

The matter of face covering rules has already caused some unsettling reactions in the community.

Several people witnessed police being called recently to the Chapter’s store, which has its own in-store masking rules, when a discussion between a staffer and a customer escalated into a confrontation.

Coun. Frank Wong suggested that penalties for intimidation and harassment be discussed on Monday as part of the new mandatory masking bylaw.

Most city councillors spoke of the need for more community unity at Monday’s meeting.

“We need to understand and help each other and not be so critical of each other,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee, who noted “we are all impacted” by the pandemic.

Council received some messages from people who deny the seriousness of COVID-19, which has been shown to have long-term impacts on some people, even those who didn’t require hospitalization.

Claims that COVID-19 is no worse than the regular seasonal flu compelled Coun. Vesna Higham to do some investigating.

Her research showed that regular flu fatalities in Alberta over the past five years ranged from 30 to 92 deaths.

This compares to 427 deaths so far from COVID-19 — including the 20 deaths reported Monday.

“If 20 people died in a bus crash, we would declare a provincial day of mourning,” said Coun. Ken Johnston.

He fears many Albertans may be falling into a sort of numbers “fatigue,” where they are no longer really considering the human impacts behind the data.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes also believes this “year of loss” is wearing thin for many people who have suffered economic hardship and other major life changes.

She would like everyone to consider, “are we being insensitive” to the needs of our neighbours, grandparents, or other vulnerable Albertans.

While no one expects masks to be “bullet proof,” Johnston stressed that face coverings have been proven by scientists to help slow the spread of the virus, and so they should be considered another protocol — along with physical distancing, hand washing, reducing cohorts and other measures.

Wyntjes believes, “We must do everything we can to keep our businesses open” and keep the community as healthy as possible.

Since masks reduce the spread of droplets and lower infection rates, “let us be proactive,” she said.

Red Deer City Council

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