Morinville mandatory face-covering bylaw defeated in a close vote

REGULAR COUNCIL MEETING from Town of Morinville on Vimeo.

YOU CAN WATCH THE ENTIRE BYLAW DEBATE BY CLICKING THE LINK ABOVE.

by Colin Smith

Morinville residents will not be required to face coverings in indoor public places if the number of COVID 19 cases in the community goes up.

Town Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday, voted down a proposed bylaw that would have made face coverings mandatory in enclosed public spaces if the number of active cases of the virus rose to 10.

Second reading of the proposed bylaw was defeated in a 3-4 vote.
It was supported by Mayor Barry Turner, and Councillors Nicole Boutestein and Lawrence Giffin. Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall, and Councillors Rebecca Balanko, Stephen Dafoe and Scott Richardson were opposed.

Council discussed the matter at its August 25 regular meeting, which resulted in direction to the Administration to bring forward a draft mandatory face covering bylaw, including an effective trigger.

The proposed Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw was presented to Council at its September 15 Committee of the Whole meeting.

The proposed bylaw required people to wear a face covering at all times while in an indoor, enclosed or substantially enclosed public place or in a public vehicle. Proposed penalties ranged from $100 up to $10,000.

The trigger for the measure coming into force would be Morinville’s COVID case numbers putting the community into the Alberta Health Service’s “Watch” status, which requires least 10 active cases and more than 50 active cases per 100,000.

Councillors raised concerns about the lack of an “off-trigger” to ensure that if cases fell below that threshold masks would no longer be required, and the size of the potential maximum penalty and it went back to the Administration for revision.

The new version brought to Council Tuesday included an “off-trigger,” with masks no longer be required 14 days after the number of cases had fallen below 10.

The $10,000 maximum fine was also eliminated.

During first reading of the bylaw, an amendment to extend the mandatory face-covering period following a drop in cases to 28 days was defeated.

Councillor Scott Richardson proposed an amendment to raise the bylaw trigger from 10 to 15 active cases, noting that it could take cases in only two families to reach the lower number. This amendment was also defeated, and the bylaw passed first reading.

In the debate on second reading, Councillor Dafoe pointed to the fact that the province does not require face coverings, although Provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has encouraged their use where physical distancing is not possible.

During their discussions on the matter Councillors have expressed the view that a decision on mask use should be made by the province and not left up to municipalities.

“I’m going to wear a mask and am continue to wear a mask,” said Dafoe. “But I’m not going to support this bylaw.”

He added that he doesn’t believe the Town has the resources to enforce the bylaw, a position agreed with by Councillor Balanko.

“Until this is pushed by Alberta Health Services, politicians shouldn’t be enacting it,” she added.

Deputy Mayor Hall said she didn’t find it in her heart to support the measure.

“I have a hard time passing a bylaw to this effect,” she said. “It’s hard because it’s kind of a moral decision, and there is so much conflicting evidence.’

According to Mayor Turner, a recent surge of COVID cases in the region, in the country and around the world, means that measures need to be taken to be ready to protect the community in case of a potential second wave.

“When we hit the trigger point, if we do have a bylaw mandating face coverings, we will have more people wearing masks and therefore help reduce the spread,” he said.

Turner said that there would be challenges in terms of enforcing the face covering bylaw, just as there are with other bylaws that the Town enforces.

Councillor Boutestein noted that mandatory face covering bylaws have been adopted by a number of neighbouring municipalities, including St. Albert, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove and Fort Saskatchewan.

“I think this is our way of being proactive,” said Boutestein. “This is the best way of keeping our community safe.”

“I know that many people will resent this bylaw,” said Councillor Giffin before the second reading vote. “On the other hand, I would feel terrible if someone died in Morinville due to COVID and we didn’t have this bylaw.”

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