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Mandatory masks in Hinton’s public spaces

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A temporary mandatory mask and face coverings bylaw went into effect on Saturday, Nov. 21, for all indoor public spaces within the Town of Hinton, such as stores, businesses, and government buildings.

This bylaw was passed by council during a special meeting of council on Nov. 20. 

Council made an amendment to the bylaw to exempt kids aged five and under from wearing masks.

Coun. Ryan Maguhn suggested raising that age of exemption to be in line with the rules within Alberta’s education system, where kids below grade four are exempt.

“I think one of the reasons in schools that the age is set at nine, is that there needs to be some assurance that the child is old enough to handle taking on and off their masks independently. Whereas, outside of school, the child is generally going to be with their cohort group and they will have a cohort or family member who can help them with their mask,” said Coun. Albert Ostashek.

He stated two wasn’t unreasonable considering that they would likely be with a parent or guardian who can help them put on their masks in public spaces.

Mayor Marcel Michaels noted that kids aged four and up at St. Gregory Catholic School have been wearing masks without any issues, providing a successful trial from within the community.

Coun. Dewly Nelson stated that council will have regular opportunities to amend this bylaw as they learn what is working and what is not.

The bylaw will be reviewed every first and third Tuesday of each month by council and currently will only be enacted by the CAO when there are ten or more confirmed active cases of COVID-19.

Other exemptions to the bylaw include people who are unable to remove a mask without assistance, anyone eating or drinking in a designated area or ceremony, during exercise, for any medical reason, or someone who is hearing impaired, among others. It also doesn’t apply to schools, hospitals, childcare, or areas accessed by public place employees.

Todd Martens, protective services manager of Hinton, stated that peace officers will ask individuals about their medical condition if they refuse to wear a mask for that reason, which they may or may not respond to. Officers have the authority to deal with individuals who refuse in several ways, but it won’t be an automatic ticket, he added.

“We’re going to give the benefit of the doubt to the person that said they have that medical condition. If you do have a medical condition, we encourage all people to ask their doctor for a note and to quickly show that to our peace officers. Some doctors are gladly willing to write that for people who truly have a medical condition, for others it will be case by case,” Martens said.

Coun. Trevor Haas added that most doctor’s notes won’t state what the person’s condition is, which is not something the individual is required to disclose.

Failure to wear a face covering where required comes with a minimum penalty of $100 and interference with a person in the exercise or performance of the person’s powers pursuant to this bylaw will come with a minimum penalty of $250.

Maguhn  pointed out a few concerns he came across while speaking with citizens about the bylaw, one being the misconception of bylaws not getting repealed.

He explained that repealing a bylaw is a normal order of business for a municipality and that the Town does, can, and will repeal any bylaw as necessary.

Another concern surrounded the legalities of a mandatory mask bylaw.

The Town also referenced approved bylaws from other municipalities and how they fit within all necessary legal frameworks, he stated.

“We also, as a municipality, consulted our own legal representation to make sure that everything fits within the accordance of all legal structures, provincial, federal, municipal,” Maguhn said.