Edmontonians to prepare for possible mask mandate extension on transit and vehicles for hire

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Mask on, mask off — Edmontonians will wait until early next week to find out if a city bylaw will extend public health measures that will enforce mask use on public transit after provincial measures drop.

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A motion couldn’t be made at the emergency advisory committee on Thursday afternoon, but Mayor Don Iveson said council will discuss the possible bylaw enforcement on Monday. The mask mandate could also extend to other places such as vehicles for hire.

“My sense is that the votes will be there to extend masking requirements on Edmonton transit,” said Iveson during a media availability.

“I support looking at maintaining masking on transit to help encourage more people to ride and support safety for students, particularly those too young yet for vaccines during the pending back to school period.”

Iveson said he believes the bylaw could be passed on Monday. He said a text amendment needs to be prepared that adjusts the meaning and applicability of the current bylaw, which is inactive at the moment, and activate it for transit and other specific places if it is needed.

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He added after lawyers read over the bylaw it would come back to council to pass three readings. If there is no objection Iveson said it could all be dealt with on Monday and if there is an objection the discussion could trickle over into Tuesday.

“There’s a pathway to get it done either all on Monday on the same day, or worst-case scenario by Tuesday afternoon,” said Iveson.

If the city passes its own bylaw to mandate masking in certain spaces, Iveson said enforcement would likely look similar to previous enforcement.

“I think our overall approach has been light touch and has been to seek compliance, as we always do, through education,” said Iveson.

Iveson said transit peace officers are equipped with tickets as well as masks. He said the first thing officers will do is offer a mask and ask the rider to wear it and most of the time people comply.

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The province extending its own masking mandate would be the “cleanest” solution, said Iveson. However, the fallback is for city council to send that signal on its own and follow up with enforcement as needed if transit users are being belligerent.

During the emergency advisory committee meeting, Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, Edmonton Transit Service branch manager with the city, said a survey conducted in June among a sample of people was split and found that 50 per cent of Edmontonians felt comfortable returning to transit.

No one at the meeting has seen the science or data driving Alberta Health’s changes to public health measures, including Dr. Michael Zakhary, who was fielding questions virtually on behalf of Alberta Health Services, which is a concern for the mayor.

“I share the frustration that I heard from a number of members of council about the fact that that modelling has not been made public and to me I think that vacuum fills itself with a lot of speculation which is not helping anybody make good decisions, including us,” said Iveson.

Council will discuss implementing the masking bylaw at Monday’s council meeting.

ktaniguchi@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kellentaniguchi

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