The Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) is pushing forward with a mandatory face-covering bylaw.
“Masks are a small inconvenience to avoid the more strict measures,” said TBM Mayor Alar Soever. “There are a lot of solutions and the key is to do the things we need to do to keep ourselves safe.”
The proposed bylaw will require mandatory face coverings in indoor and enclosed spaces accessible to the public in the TBM.
Soever says the draft bylaw mimics the current provincial order and makes no attempts to change direction from the province.
Rather, the intent of the bylaw is to “make the requirement to wear a mask an obligation borne by both the individual and the proprietor of a public establishment.”
The provincial legislation states businesses and organizations must ensure anyone located in an indoor area on their premises or in a work vehicle must wear a mask that covers their mouth, nose, and chin.
The draft was presented to TBM council in a staff report at a committee of the whole meeting held Wednesday night. Council had previously directed staff to prepare the draft at a council meeting held in mid-October.
Town councillors say the bylaw was crafted to minimize any infringement on personal liberty to the “greatest extent possible.”
A list of exemptions is included in the staff report, which again, mirrors the provincial order.
Through a public meeting, public comments and deputations, town hall received numerous comments both in favour of and in opposition to the proposed bylaw.
Those in favour generally commented that the town was moving in the right direction to help keep everyone safe during the pandemic.
“This is about an individual doing the right thing for the greater good,” commented June Porter, TBM resident and registered nurse. “Only when we operationalize science will COVID-19 stand still.”
Others commented that masks should be mandatory to protect our community, and “perhaps driver's licenses should be requested to make sure people from hotspots are not in our area or if they are required proof of a recent negative COVID test,” stated one comment as read TBM clerk Corrina Giles.
Those in opposition of the bylaw noted that, if enacted, this measure would infringe upon their right to exercise their Charter of Rights.
“A bylaw is not necessary. This bylaw is a waste of taxpayer’s money. And it's not necessary as it is already provincially mandated,” noted further commentary read by Giles to council.
However, Soever says enacting the bylaw is “the right thing to do.”
“The proper thing to do here is is to bring this mask bylaw in. It doesn't make a huge imposition on people. If people can’t do masks, they can be accommodated,” he said. “We have plastic visors here at the town hall, if somebody really has a problem. It's a little bit of a lesser level of protection. But nonetheless, we're happy to offer them a plastic visor, and then of course, we keep a little further distance.”
In terms of enforcing the bylaw, TBM council will also be considering adding two new bylaw officers to its contingent.
The officers would not be specific to the face-covering bylaw, but rather join TBM’s general bylaw department, which is currently tasked with managing several ongoing issues throughout the municipality – including parking and noise complaints.
Town staff have proposed hiring two, six-month contract municipal law enforcement officers to provide education, communication and enforcement of face-covering bylaw and general bylaw enforcement.
“Business owners need to know that they can call bylaw and have a response,” added TBM councillor, Andrea Matrosovs.
Cost for the additional staff is estimated to have an upset limit of $75,000.
TBM has also started to roll out an accompanying communications plan that will see increased promotion of the bylaw, as well as possible roadside signs, reader signs, and billboards at the major entry points to the town and high-traffic areas.
The proposed face-covering bylaw will go before council for final consideration at the council meeting scheduled for Nov. 30, and will be considered for adoption and enactment on Dec. 14.