Jason Herring

Published: July 4, 2021

-Calgary Herald


Calgarians will soon know whether the city’s mandatory mask rules will be lifted as city council returns to the contentious issue Monday.

Alberta lifted virtually all COVID-19 restrictions July 1, but a split council vote last month kept Calgary’s own mask bylaw in place, with council subsequently punting a decision on whether to continue requiring face coverings in public spaces until July 5.

“I said, ‘No damn way are we waiting another month to talk about this,’” said Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, who voted last month to repeal the mask bylaw July 1, then introduced the motion to bring the issue back to council Monday.

“I think the vast majority of people who haven’t got the vaccine, they just don’t want to do it, for whatever reason … Extending the mask bylaw anymore, I don’t think that’s a good service to the rest of society.”

Keating said he expects the Monday vote on repealing the bylaw to end in a 7–7 tie, the same deadlock vote seen last time council debated the issue.

The seven members of council to vote against repealing the bylaw were Jyoti Gondek, George Chahal, Druh Farrell, Evan Woolley, Gian-Carlo Carra, Diane Colley-Urquhart and Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Two of those councillors — Chahal and Farrell — signalled on Twitter Friday they would vote against repealing the bylaw, with Chahal saying it’s prudent to keep wearing masks in public places for “a few more weeks” to help prevent the spread of the ultra-contagious Delta variant.

In a message to Postmedia on Sunday, Carra said he would vote in line with recommendations expected from the Calgary Emergency Management Agency.

“I expect (that) will be to maintain masking until after the Stampede,” Carra said, adding that timeline would give council the opportunity to see how the Calgary Stampede impacts spread of the Delta variant.

Gondek declined to comment on how she would vote Monday, but said in its current form the mandatory mask bylaw “can’t carry on.”

She said repealing the bylaw would pose other costs, however, saying businesses that still want to require mask use will have to implement their own policies. She also wondered if some may avoid events like Stampede because masks won’t be required.

The two other councillors who voted not to repeal the mask bylaw, Woolley and Colley-Urquhart, did not respond to messages from Postmedia Sunday afternoon.

While speaking at a Calgary event Friday, Premier Jason Kenney aired his frustrations at the continued mask bylaw in Calgary, saying he “didn’t know there were so many epidemiologists in public life.”

Gondek said when Calgary first introduced its mask bylaw on Aug. 1, 2020, months before the province introduced its own mandate, Kenney said the decision was “better taken locally.” She said he should continue to respect the right of municipalities to make their own choices related to the pandemic.

“It puts us in an untenable position where there’s going to be one set of rules coming from the province, another set coming from the municipality,” Gondek said. “Frankly, it’s just perpetuating the inconsistency his government has had in this pandemic since the beginning.”

Coun. Ward Sutherland said he will be once again voting to repeal the bylaw.

“Restaurant owners have told me that, since July 1, it’s caused nothing but problems. People are coming into restaurants without masks and telling them they won’t listen to the city when the province says it’s OK,” said Sutherland on Sunday.

“I think it’s so unfair that we’re putting these employees in that position … The people who are uncomfortable, please continue wearing a mask. I don’t want to see people harassing somebody for choosing to wear a mask. It should be a personal choice right now.”

Coun. Jeromy Farkas vowed he would vote to remove the bylaw, adding that after significant sacrifices, Calgary has seen success against COVID-19.

“It is especially unfair to our struggling small businesses who feel they must now police customers who are rightfully confused about which rules apply, and in which circumstances,” said Farkas in a statement.

Alongside Canmore, Calgary is the only Alberta municipality that still has a mask bylaw in place; Canmore will re-evaluate its rule on Tuesday.

The mask bylaw is designed to be temporary, but it will be in effect until the end of 2021 unless council votes to repeal it before then.

Even if Calgary repeals its mask bylaw Monday, masks will still be mandatory in acute and continuing-care settings, on public transit, and in taxis or ride-share vehicles as part of provincewide rules.