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Masks mandated in public indoor spaces in St. Albert

This makes face coverings mandatory inside retail stores, grocery stores, entertainment venues, recreation centres, restaurants, transit stations and vehicles for hire, with some exemptions. However, it does not include schools, hospitals, health care facilities or child care facilities.
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Bylaw exemptions

• Children under the age of 10 years.

• Those unable to place, use or remove a face covering without assistance. This includes those engaged in services that required the temporary removal of face coverings.

• Those unable to wear a face-covering due to a mental or physical condition, disability or limitation, or other grounds for protection from discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

• Consuming food or drink while seated in a designated food and drink seating area, or as part of a religious or spiritual ceremony.

• Engaged in swimming or other water activities, or engaged in physical exercise or other physical activity, within an area designated for such activities.

• Providing or receiving care or assistance for a mental or physical condition, disability or limitation and a face covering would have hindered providing or receiving that caregiving or assistance.

• A participant in dance, theatrical or musical public performance, if all participants in the performance maintained at least two metres of physical distance from each other and did not enter the area where the public was viewing the performance. 

• Transit operator, if barriers were in place to create physical screening between the transit operator and passengers on public transit busses.

• Providing or receiving a service that requires personal consultation if that activity occurs in a closed office or meeting room and all participants in the personal consultation have at all times maintained physical separation of at least two metres from each other.

If you visit an indoor public place in St. Albert, you'll need to don a face covering as of Saturday.

St. Albert city council voted 6-1 Tuesday (Coun. Sheena Hughes opposed) to approve a bylaw mandating the use of masks in indoor public facilities, including private businesses, on public transit and in city-owned facilities. The rules will come into effect just after midnight on Aug. 8.

"This bylaw is a bylaw to temporarily mandate the wearing of face coverings, so no way is it a permanent move ... It's untrue to say this is a permanent bylaw," Mayor Cathy Heron said.

"St. Albert has done a good job ... but that was when we were on complete shutdown. We've now been slowly reopening our economy, and we're slowly seeing an uptick in cases in Alberta. To prevent a second shutdown, I think this is a necessary move." 

The bylaw is set to expire just before noon on Dec. 31, 2020, unless city council decides to repeal or extend it before then.

Last week, the city mandated masks on public transit and in all civic facilities effective Aug. 1, using authority given to it by the Municipal Government Act, which gives the city the same right to control what happens on city property as an individual landowner. 

But this bylaw would take that a step further to include all indoor public spaces following an amendment brought forward by Coun. Jacquie Hansen, along with a list of penalties and some exemptions to the rules.

This makes face coverings mandatory inside retail stores, grocery stores, entertainment venues, recreation centres, restaurants and transit stations. However, it does not include schools, hospitals, health care facilities or child care facilities. 

It also applies to vehicles for hire. 

Face coverings can be removed when eating or drinking in a designated seating area, when taking part in a religious or spiritual ceremony or when engaged in water activities or physical exercise. 

The fine for breaking the bylaw is $100. But if the conviction goes to court, the judge has the authority to charge a fine of up to $10,000 or up to a year of prison time.

The bylaw prohibits people from harassing or intimidating people who are exempted from wearing masks.

City staff said during the meeting that communication around how to properly put on and remove a face mask safely will be done following the passing of this bylaw.

Heated debate 

The debate around mandating masks has been a heated one, with some councillors saying they’ve received more public feedback on this than the highly contentious Riverbank Landing development that came to council earlier in the summer. 

Councillors debated several amendments to the bylaw’s original draft, including the reduction of maximum penalty fines and the removal of potential jail time, the date the bylaw takes effect, and the removal of the word ‘bona fide’ in the list of exemptions, which would imply a person would have to show proof that they cannot wear a mask. 

Though the bylaw would be in place until Dec. 31, there are no specific parameters set around when the bylaw would be removed, or when it would take effect. Council could decide to keep it going past that date if they saw fit.

There are zero active COVID-19 cases in St. Albert as of Aug. 4. With no parameters, Coun. Sheena Hughes questioned if the bylaw would be temporary at all. 

"Either we have individual rights or we don't, and with this bylaw, for the most part, we don't. This is not temporary because we have no exit clause. When we said it's symbolic, we're prepared to put people in jail for one year. So what was stated, and what we've actually implemented, are two different bylaws."

Coun. Ray Watkins said mask mandates are about trying to protect society, not about rights and freedoms. A mask mandate is no different from requirements to wear seatbelts or bike helmets, he said. He added it'll be up to a judge to decide whether or not to impose those maximum penalties, not the city.

"I do this reluctantly, not because of freedom of speech, it's just the science is so mixed on whether it's right or whether it's wrong. I think I'd rather err on the side of caution and make sure we don't have a rising number of cases," he said. 

Coun. Jacquie Hansen said she was happy with council's decision, but she looks forward to reviewing the bylaw. She spoke about her 93-year-old mother who is "scared to death" of people not wearing masks. 

"I know there are lots of people out there like that, who just want to feel another layer of protection against this deadly virus," she said. 

Coun. Natalie Joly said she was glad to see a measure within the bylaw to make it obvious that it's not okay to harass people who are not wearing masks.

Coun. Ken MacKay said sometimes the city has to put "some pretty aggressive measures" in place to prevent something more serious from happening.

"I support masks, but my worry, here it comes, is unintended consequences," he said. "I will be monitoring it very closely, hopefully, we can eliminate the need for us to have this mandatory mask bylaw for any longer than is necessary."

Coun. Wes Brodhead noted the decision wasn't an easy one, but thanked city staff for putting the bylaw together.

A look at the rest of the region

Similar bylaws around mandatory masks have been passed in other municipalities in the province. 

Edmonton made masks mandatory on transit, in city-operated facilities, and in indoor public spaces and vehicles effective Aug. 1. A fine for serious cases of non-compliance is set for $100.

Strathcona County followed Edmonton’s lead with a mandate on transit and civic facilities and is working toward a bylaw that would include vehicles for hire and all indoor public places to be debated in early August. 

Leduc made masks mandatory on transit Aug. 1. 

Spruce Grove mandated masks on transit as well Aug. 1. 


Brittany Gervais

About the Author: Brittany Gervais

Brittany Gervais joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2020. She writes about city hall, business, general news and features.
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