Toronto Makes Mask Mandatory, Other Municipalities to Follow?

In Toronto, starting next week, if you’re in a public building, you’re going to have to wear a mask. With more and more medical professionals recommending the wearing of masks as one of the best ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Canada’s biggest city has now made it the law of the land to wear a face covering in all indoor public spaces for the foreseeable future.

The new bylaw passed unanimously by Toronto City Council on Tuesday asks that every “person or organization who owns or is responsible for the operation of a facility or business to have a policy to ensure masks or face coverings be worn by the public in the enclosed public spaces.” That includes commercial businesses, offices, entertainment venues, recreation facilities, community centres, and places or worship.

The temporary bylaw goes into effect on Tuesday July 7 at 12:01 am.

“This bylaw makes sense from a health perspective and it makes sense from a business perspective,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “Wearing masks or face coverings keeps you from unknowingly spreading COVID-19 and keeps the people around you from spreading it to you. I really believe that the vast majority of people want to protect their own health and the health of others and that they will do the right thing and wear a face covering.”

“I’m encouraged by today’s Council’s decision to support the use of masks or face coverings by the public in all indoor public spaces,” added Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health. “There is growing evidence which shows that steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is especially the case in enclosed spaces where it is more difficult to maintain physical distance from others.

“The action of wearing a mask may also act as a visual cue to remind everyone that we are still living through the COVID-19 pandemic, that there is still risk of virus spread, and that we need to be careful as we move forward, living with COVID-19,” de Villa explained.

The motion that created the bylaw also asks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario to enact similar requirements in their own buildings in Toronto, which would notably include Queen’s Park, the seat of provincial power in Ontario. On Monday, Tory and a group of mayors from Peel Region released a joint statement asking for the provincial government to create a province-wide requirement to wear masks, which Premier Doug Ford, again, politely declined to do.

“You just can’t enforce it. When you go up to the rural areas, way up north, and there’s no cases. As much as we can tell them to wear masks, they aren’t wearing masks. Our MPPs are telling us up in rural areas they just aren’t wearing masks,” said Ford at Monday’s press briefing. “It’s up to the local Chief Medical Officer. If they want to do it then God bless them. All the power to them. I think it’s a good thing. When you’re out in public wear a mask. Wear a face cover. That’s the reason we’re at the numbers we are because everyone is listening.”

Because of that unwillingness to enact a province-wide order, other municipalities are joining Toronto in passing their own mask bylaws.

As Toronto City Council moved to approve their bylaw, the mayors of of Brampton, Mississauga and the Town of Caledon announced that they were working with the Peel Region’s Medical Office of Health to develop their own temporary bylaw that would require require residents to wear a non-medical mask inside indoor public spaces.

“Peel Public Health already strongly supports the use of non-medical masks where distancing is not possible and on transit. A time-limited, broader bylaw mandating when and where non-medical masks must be used further strengthens these recommendations and protects Peel residents,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh in a statement. “Together with the other Core Four behaviours of physical distancing, handwashing, getting tested and staying home if sick, more consistent use of non-medical masks by all residents in public spaces will help drive down cases and bring this first wave to a close in our community.”

Closer to home, Waterloo Region will be looking at a temporary mandatory mask bylaw at its July 6 meeting. Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic moved the idea last week after it was recommended to regional council to approve mandatory masks for all those riding transit. The Region’s acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, has not recommended making masks mandatory, but Vrbanovic argued that a bylaw would clarify things in the minds residents about the need to wear masks.

“People, generally speaking, want to be good citizens,” Vrbanovic saidm according to the Waterloo Region Record. “This would provide clarity.”

Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner released a statement Tuesday endorsing the move on the part of municipalities to initiate their own mandatory mask policies.

“I support municipalities to make the best decision according to the COVID-19 circumstances in their community, including medical orders that require face coverings in indoor establishments,” said Schreiner. “These measures have been effective in places like Guelph, where the public has adopted the practice as a shared responsibility to keep everyone safe.”

Until today, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health was the only health authority in Ontario to make mask-wearing mandatory in advance of the Stage 2 economic re-opening on June 12. No bylaw was enacted, but Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer issued an order under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

The City of Toronto’s new bylaw will be reviewed on a monthly basis and report any necessary changes until September 30.

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