Yellowknife city council is considering making non-medical masks a requirement in public spaces.
Mayor and council are pondering whether to maintain the status quo – which is voluntary use – making masks mandatory on city transit; making them mandatory on city transit and in city-owned-and-operated facilities; or making them mandatory in all indoor public spaces through bylaws.
Councillors present at a Monday meeting were divided in their opinions on the latter two options. They will discuss the issue further at the Aug. 17 governance priorities committee meeting.
If approved, a bylaw could be put in place following the Aug. 24 regular council meeting.
“The discussion or question of face coverings and masks has really been heating up over the last month or so and that’s in the wake of reopening among cities across the country, as well as the increased likelihood of more businesses opening and people going back to what we call normal life, including school and work,” said Kerry Penney, the city’s manager of legal services.
Penney noted that masks may help people maintain physical distancing of the two metres.
“There’s some literature that says making masks mandatory seems to improve compliance with the physical distancing requirements… when people see a mask, it signals to them that they should keep apart,” she said.
In any instance where masks are made mandatory, bylaw enforcement would be carried out by the city’s municipal enforcement division.
Some municipalities across the country have already taken measures to create bylaws for people to wear masks, council heard. Among them are Calgary and Edmonton. Both bylaws in those cases include the requirement that people wear non-medical masks when in city indoor facilities.
Mayor Rebecca Alty and administrative staff stated that the corporate requirements of customers wearing masks may prove a way for the city to introduce a similar measure without facing too much criticism.
On Wednesday, Walmart stores across Canada, including the one in Yellowknife, implemented a policy that requires all store customers to wear non-medical masks while shopping.
Coun. Niels Konge said he likes the idea of being able to protect workers and making masks mandatory in all public spaces. He pointed out that the city requires the public to take safety precautions like wearing seatbelts and council could support businesses by taking a lead on public health.
“As a council, if we were to do that, we could make it easier for small businesses,” he said. “If ABC hardware makes it mandatory, they are putting themselves out there through social media, whether it is right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. If we make the decision that indoors we make it mandatory to wear a mask, we take away a lot of the stress from (businesses) in the city.”