No decision made on mandatory masks in Hinton

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council discussed the use of mandatory masks in public spaces during the standing committee meeting on Aug. 25 but made no decision going forward.

“Whether we go down the path of a mask bylaw or no mask bylaw, I think some indication of which way we’re going will help citizens understand one of the 75 moving parts they have right now,” Coun. Dewly Nelson said.

Todd Martens, Hinton’s protective services manager, indicated the Town has looked at Banff, Jasper, Edson, Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge and the bylaws they passed for mandatory mask bylaws.

Calgary implemented fines for businesses if they didn’t post signage, which was done to notify visitors from other communities.

Edson implemented a trigger-based bylaw, where masks would become mandatory only at a medium rated risk level with at least ten local active cases of COVID-19.

Martens added that Hinton could put together a draft bylaw fairly quickly using bylaws as examples from those other communities. 

Some communities like Banff and Jasper implemented their mask bylaw based on tourism, and others like larger centres implemented their bylaw due to the size of their city.

Mayor Marcel Michaels suggested a request for an information item indicating the pros and cons of implementing mask bylaws.

“I’m obviously not a medical expert, I go to different sources online to try and listen to things about more specifics on positive or negative impacts on masks. I think if we have a bit more of a framed conversation on Sept. 8 with an information item, I’m not prepared to say I want a draft bylaw yet,” Michaels said.

CAO Emily Olsen stated there is some additional support administration could tap into for a high level report on Sept. 8 including an overview of what other communities are doing, but no recommendation from administration would be made.

Coun. Albert Ostashek voiced his concern about sending administration to research something that isn’t fully justified.

“A mask bylaw, to me, that’s a very significant, serious mandate to impose on people who may not be completely comfortable, for one reason or another, with the idea of being forced to wear masks in public. Without something to justify that, I have a hard time getting behind it and supporting it,” Ostashek said.

He did point out that he wears a mask in public and encourages others to wear one and businesses to recommend them.

He added that masks are just one mechanism to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Administration and a trigger of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) can deal with any potential risks of COVID-19 immediately in various ways.

The state of local emergency (SOLE) would allow administration the power to do what is necessary for the protection of the community, including mandating masks.

A potential bylaw could be educational or enforceable, Martens added.

Nelson noted that if administration can mandate masks under the SOLE, then it could be beneficial to create a bylaw prior to mandating it.

If a bylaw is drafted prior to implementation, the citizens of Hinton can be considered in its draft.

“I don’t think deferring everything to the EOC and putting it all on administration’s shoulders is the correct thing for a council to do,” Nelson added. “If we have an appetite to implement a mask bylaw as part of the EOC, then let’s develop the bylaw as a council and represent our citizens that way.”

Coun. Trevor Haas added that communities are protected through the health guidelines and tracking of active cases.

Without the use of masks, the community is already protected from any potential risk, he added.

Coun. JoAnn Race stated that if a bylaw is drafted and created, it may never be enacted, but if necessary, at least it is there.

With nobody putting forth a direction, Michaels stated that with no will to move forward, council can reassess in a couple of weeks and continue watching how the province reacts to the pandemic.