By Cole Parkinson
Before the Alberta goverment put in a province-wide mandatory mask requirement yesterday, Vauxhall town council decided not to pursue a temporary mandatory mask bylaw after a split vote at a special meeting held last week.
After the Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber carried mask bylaws earlier in December, a special town meeting was held on Dec. 3 in order for council to discuss their appetite for bringing a similar bylaw to Vauxhall.
“I talked to an M.D. councillor two weekends ago, and then on Sunday (Nov. 29) with the numbers still increasing, I sent an email to the mayors and reeves in the region looking to see if we wanted to hold a quick meeting to discuss what we want to do and how we want to work together,” stated Mayor Margaret Plumtree. “From there, we ended up having a meeting with a phone call with a doctor from Taber, who provided us with information. There was another meeting Thursday (Nov. 26) and that was to discuss whether or not we wanted to move forward with the mask bylaw. There are a lot of councillors in the region interested in moving forward. Since that meeting, I have learned the doctors in the Taber region have requested to the Taber council to make masks mandatory to lower the curve.”
Council was presented with two forms of a mask bylaw — option one was outlining more of an information/eduction perspective while the second included fines for violations and offences.
“It allows businesses that do want to put a mandatory mask policy within their place of business, it makes it so that it can be enforced by the municipality. Otherwise, some businesses are having trouble with the enforcement because the municipality does not have them,” added Plumtree.
Several councillors questioned how they would enforce the bylaw due to the town not employing a bylaw officer.
“The biggest idea everyone has is we are not so concerned about enforcing it but more about education. By putting the bylaw in place, the RCMP does have the ability to enforce it,” answered Plumtree.
It was also pointed out by some councillors that businesses could put a mask policy in place themselves if they wanted without having the town put a bylaw in place.
“I think if businesses want to put a mask regulation in, they are free to do that and I know businesses have done that,” said Coun. Kim Cawley. “Personally, I don’t feel it is necessary. We don’t have anyone to enforce these bylaws. I don’t want it to fall on grocery store workers or places of business to be getting after people to follow bylaws. I see it being a source of contention more than anything, to be honest.”
Coun. Richard Phillips also pointed to the old store regulation of ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service’, but in this case ‘no mask, no service’.
“As far as enforcement goes, I hope we do not degenerate into a situation where the RCMP are out handing $100 tickets to healthy people for failing to wear a mask. That would be a sad statement on our society as far as I’m concerned,” added Phillips.
Others questioned the validity of putting a mask bylaw in place.
“I agree with Kim. If we put this bylaw into effect, the businesses would almost have to provide masks too,” said Coun. Jake Wiebe. “I think most people who want to wear a mask wear it already. It’s kind of confusing. The first wave of COVID, we had no one wearing masks and now everybody is wearing masks and everybody is getting COVID. It’s confusing in my eyes.”
Others agreed with the assessment that a mandatory mask bylaw would help businesses in town as it would allow them to point to an official municipal bylaw that had to be followed rather than a guideline.
“I view this as a step towards supporting businesses and what they are doing. Where people would walk into a store and be asked to wear a mask, and they say no because the town hasn’t done it. I fully appreciate the idea that when we put something in place, it becomes a bit of a nuisance and it will become a bit of a nuisance,” said Deputy Mayor Ray Coad.
Phillips doubled down on the fact the town had insufficient ways to properly enforce the bylaw.
“With the lack of enforcement, it is a wasted effort to pass the bylaw because everyone is going to know it isn’t going to be enforced. Therefore, they will feel free to thumb their noses at it. There’s no lack of education out there. I think the argument that this helps educate people is a pathetically weak argument because everybody knows COVID is out there. Everybody knows that there are people who believe masks offer some level of protection, so this won’t help people won’t convert people to the use of masks. If we are passing a bylaw, that we admit won’t be readily enforced, we are wasting our time passing this bylaw,” he said.
Cawley agreed with Phillips’ assessment of carrying the bylaw and also expressed carrying a bylaw without the necessary enforcement would potentially harm other bylaws.
“I feel like any of our other bylaws where we do want to have any enforcement or fines, you don’t want people to take them less seriously because they see us putting this one forward with no intention of enforcing it,” she explained.
A motion for first reading of the bylaw was defeated by a vote of 4-3. Councillors Phillips, Wiebe, Cawley and Marilyn Forchuk voted in opposition.