Council approves mandatory mask bylaw

Above: A poster in a Morinville Business window advising of Morinville Mandatory Mask Bylaw. 

by Colin Smith

It is now mandatory in Morinville to wear a face covering when in an indoor public space.

At a special meeting yesterday Town Council passed a bylaw that requires the wearing of masks or other close coverings of the nose, mouth or chin, or transparent face shields in an attempt to help stem the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

The Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw, which applies to all indoor, enclosed or substantially enclosed public places and public vehicles in Morinville, passed all three readings at the meeting and became effective immediately.

It will remain in force as long as the Town is designated as being in the Alberta Health Services “Watch” classification, which requires at least 10 active cases and a per capita rate of more than 50 active cases for a population of 100,000. Once out of the watch category, the bylaw remains in effect for another 14 days.

As of 3:30 p.m. Friday Morinville had 27 cases, with a rate of 238.3 cases per 100,000.

First reading of the bylaw was moved by Councillor Nicole Boutestein, who had raised the issue at Council’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“This alarming incidence of active COVID-19 cases in Morinville needs to be curbed immediately,” Boutestein said. “One of the things to help curb the spread could simply be wearing a safe mask and approving this motion.”

Following approval of first and second readings and debate, the Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw was passed at third reading. In favour were Mayor Barry Turner, Deputy Mayor Sarah Hall and Councillors Boutestein, Lawrence Giffin and Scott Richardson. Councillors Rebecca Balanko and Stephen Dafoe were opposed.

The bylaw provides for a number of exemptions, including for children under 10 years, people who are unable to wear face coverings as a result of physical or mental health concerns, are unable to use face coverings without assistance, or are eating or drinking in designating seating areas or as part of a religious or spiritual ceremony.

The minimum penalty for contravention of the bylaw is $100.

It is also an offence under the bylaw to harass or attempt to intimidate a person who is not guilty of an offence while not wearing a face covering as a result of an exemption. This was the result of an amendment to the original bylaw proposed by Councillor Dafoe.

Following another addition suggested by Dafoe, the bylaw makes it explicit that its enforcement is the sole responsibility of the Town of Morinville and there is no expectation for owners of places open to the public to enforce the bylaw.

The bylaw does not apply to schools and other educational facilities; hospitals and health-care facilities; childcare facilities; and areas exclusively accessed or used by the public place’s employees, or a public vehicle operator, or platform and stage areas in places of worship during worship services.

The Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw will be repealed automatically on March 31, 2021.

This was the Council’s second go-around with a mandatory face covering bylaw, a previous one having been defeated at its September 22 meeting.

While a defeated motion cannot be brought up again in Council, a legal opinion obtained by the Administration suggested that does not hold true for a bylaw. Also, that if challenged in court this bylaw would likely be upheld because of changed circumstances since the first bylaw was defeated.

Following the passage of the face covering bylaw Councillor Stephen Dafoe put forward a motion that would see Council revisit procedure on bylaws returning after being defeated.

The motion was ruled out of order by Mayor Barry Turner as not being within the scope of the special meeting. Dafoe challenged Turner’s ruling but his ruling was upheld by a vote of the Councillors.

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