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St. Albert suspends face-covering bylaw

Bylaw will come back into effect once provincial mandate ends
mask st albert
St. Albert city council voted to suspend its own face covering bylaw until the province's Alberta-wide order ends. If that happens, the city's bylaw would come back into effect. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

When it comes to wearing a face covering, follow the province's rules, not St. Albert's – for now. 

During Monday's council meeting, St. Albert city council voted to suspend its own face-covering bylaw until the province's Alberta-wide mask order ends. However, the bylaw will be reinstated once the provincial mandate is removed.

On Dec. 8, Premier Jason Kenney announced a provincewide mask mandate in all indoor public spaces, though many communities in the province had implemented face-covering bylaws already. Other municipalities, including Edmonton, Sturgeon County and Calgary, have kept their own bylaws in place to work in conjunction with provincial orders.  

Before Monday's vote, St. Albert's mask bylaw was set to be repealed at midnight on Dec. 31.

Council heard from five speakers before the vote, all asking city council to repeal the municipal bylaw entirely instead of just suspending it. 

Even though St. Albert resident Barbara Baumann is exempt, she said she has been routinely harassed and discriminated against by residents and business owners for not wearing a face mask.  

"I've had people physically grab me by the arm to say, 'Why aren't you wearing your mask? Are you just stupid?'" she said. "Those are attacks. It's not okay." 

She asked council how the city could ensure businesses could not go above government legislation, and questioned whether the mandate was truly temporary. 

"My understanding is that once the provincial policy expires, then you would reinstate (the city's bylaw) with no end date, which does not sound temporary. That sounds permanent."

Another resident, Jennifer Cote, asked why the city would reinstate its own face covering bylaw after provincial health officials decide mask mandates are no longer needed. 

"Without a clearly identified end date, council must, in the very least, revise the proposed amendment to include a trigger as many other municipalities have done. We cannot expect people to wear masks for an indefinite period of time with zero parameters," Cote said. 

Given provincial legislation trumps municipal, Coun. Ken MacKay asked if suspending the city's bylaw is necessary. 

"They're fairly well aligned, but there are some differences which could cause some members of the public some confusion as to what's allowed and what's not allowed," said Aaron Giesbrecht, manager of policing services. "It would be much more streamlined from the officer's perspective to look at one set of rules versus looking at both." 

One of the main differences between the two pieces of legislation is how much people can be fined. Penalties are higher under the provincial mandate, with fines of $1,000 per offence and up to $100,000 if the case is heard in court. St. Albert's bylaw has fines of up to $100, and up to $10,000 if it goes before a judge. Officers would have to use their discretion for what amount to fine someone in contravention if both mandates were kept in place. 

The province also mandates face coverings for everyone without exemptions under the age of two, while St. Albert's raises the limit to under 10 years. 

Coun. Sheena Hughes questioned why the city would bring back its face-covering bylaw if provincial health experts decide to rescind it across Alberta. 

"If we're going to rely on medical advice and follow the province's direction, then we should just follow the province's direction," Hughes said. "We haven't even had any medical expertise to tell us that we should be continuing the bylaw after the province's is done."

The motion passed in a 5-2 vote, with councillors MacKay and Hughes against. 

Coun. Wes Brodhead put forward an amendment to put in a two-week timeframe for council to revisit its face covering bylaw once it comes back into effect. That means should the province pull back its mandate, council must meet again within 14 days to decide the future of its own legislation. 

"We need hope and part of hope is to say, 'As soon as the province stops, we will take a look to make sure our bylaw aligns,'" Brodhead said.

The amendment passed in a 6-1 vote, with Coun. Natalie Joly against. Joly had voiced concerns the amendment would only give a "false sense of hope" that the city would rescind its bylaw at that time.

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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