The City of Yellowknife is considering whether to make wearing masks in public spaces mandatory.
During a presentation to councillors on the issue earlier this week, Kerry Penney, manager of legal services with the city, noted with businesses reopening and kids heading back to school in the fall, wearing masks is becoming increasingly important across Canada. Making that mandatory, she said, could encourage people to follow other public health precautions.
“It’s seen as a way that when people see a mask, it signals to them that they should be staying apart,” she explained.
Masks are a fairly inexpensive and non-invasive way to help the economy avoid complete lockdown, Penney added. It has also allowed some Canadian cities to increase capacity on public transit – something Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio will be needed to meet the city’s transportation demands in the fall.
Penney told Yellowknife councillors they have five options when it comes to masks in the city: the status quo where masks are voluntary; passing a bylaw if there’s a Yellowknife outbreak of Covid-19 to make masks mandatory on city transit, on transit and all city-owned and operated facilities, or in all indoor public spaces; or leaving it to the territorial government to make an order if there’s a regional or territorial outbreak.
Councillors were split on which of the options they preferred.
“For the safety of our bus drivers and the students that are going to be taking those buses to and from school, I would definitely be in favour of mandatory masks for transit,” Steve Payne said, indicating a preference for options two and three.
Niels Konge, meanwhile, said he was leaning toward preparing a bylaw to make masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces.
He said a recent case of Covid-19 locally-acquired in the Yukon was “hitting pretty close to home.”
“I think our individual freedom is important, but so is our collective health, and that is really what we’re talking about here,” he said.
Konge added that passing a bylaw to make masks mandatory could help businesses in Yellowknife, as in other cities where compliance is left to business owners, they’ve faced challenges with customers refusing to wear masks. He noted people already have to wear a mask when shopping in Walmart in Yellowknife, a new country-wide requirement from the company.
Cynthia Mufandaedza also said she was in support of option four, while Stacie Smith said she was “teetering in-between” options two and three.
“I think it would be good for us to definitely make sure we are being prepared,” Smith said.
Councillors will discuss the issue further next week. Yellowknife residents can submit comments to council or city staff on the matter.
City administration is expected to draft a bylaw by August 24. It will include details like if businesses have to post signage about masks, and exemptions for medical reasons and children under the age of two.
According to the city’s presentation, Nova Scotia and Quebec are currently the only jurisdictions in Canada that have issued orders making masks mandatory province-wide. In other provinces, it has been left up to municipal governments to decide on rules around masks.
Waterloo and Toronto in Ontario, and Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, have made masks mandatory for public transit and indoor public spaces. Banff, Alberta, is the first jurisdiction in Canada to also make masks mandatory in some outdoor public spaces.