Municipality of Chatham-Kent Council voted in favour of implementing a mandatory mask by-law on Monday night, August 10, 2020 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The by-law goes into effect on Friday, August 14, 2020 at 12:01 a.m.
The approved by-law can be read, here.
Chatham Councillor Brock McGregor entered a successful motion, after pulling a petition from the communicated items portion of the Council agenda.
In order to get the item on the floor, Councillor McGregor first made a successful motion to waive the notice period required to discuss the mandatory mask issue on Monday.
After a lengthy debate, where many Councillors called the issue a “polarizing” one, Council approved the following:
– That Council approve a by-law mandating masks in indoor public spaces.
– And that further amendments be developed in consultation with the (Medical Officer of Health) addressing other preventative measures including physical distancing requirements, and the provision of hand sanitizer in public spaces, to be discussed at the September 14th meeting.
The final vote resulted in 63% of Council in favour and 38% opposed.
“Those that have reached out in support of mandatory masking agree with the hierarchy that Dr. Colby has maintained, that physical distancing, maintaining social circles and built space primary prevention remain the most important aspects of preventing community transmission,” Councillor Brock McGregor said.
“Passing this by-law and mandating masks in indoor public spaces does not promote masks as an alternative to any of these practices, but rather as an adjunct or compliment. While evidence is not perfect, which is most often the case, we have seen we have seen a shifting balance from various public health agencies in Ontario and across Canada promoting and mandating masking.”
McGregor said there were already areas in Chatham-Kent “where we’ve seen value in mandating masking”, including in personal care settings and public transit.
“What we’re really speaking about this evening is expanding that to include indoor public spaces,” McGregor said.
“I think it is reasonable if we are going to be asked to where a mask to our doctor’s offices, to get a haircut, to visit a massage therapist… that we can where a mask when grabbing some groceries or visiting a local retail shop.”
McGregor said over the past few days and weeks a number of physicians in Chatham-Kent have expressed their support for mandatory masking.
“As well as most recently the medical advisory committee at CKHA,” he said.
“I think we should take this feedback into strong consideration. The regional reality is, that along with Lambton County, we remain the only locale in Ontario without mandatory masking.”
McGregor added the by-law, which was circulated to Council in advance of Monday’s meeting, is similar to other communities that have implemented mandatory masking.
“With exceptions for small children, those engaged in exercise and those with pre-exisiting conditions,” McGregor said.
“As we go through this pandemic together, I think it is vitally important that we do our best to prevent shaming about mask wearing and the inability to wear a mask and uphold respect for each other. I’m hopeful that on the balance of evidence and the support of our medical community we can move forward with this tonight and it is also my hope that as a community we can move past the at times negative tone around this polarizing topic and continue to move through this pandemic supporting each other.”
Varying opinions were expressed by Council members during the electronic meeting.
North Kent Councillor Joe Faas said the masking topic has divided the community.
“Usually when there is a crisis, whether it be a war or something like that, communities are brought together… working together for a common cause, but the face mask situation has divided our community and I’m very disappointed in that,” Faas said.
“I was encouraged when the pandemic first started we had the (May 16th Miracle), which was a very successful show of community support in working together in trying to deal with this pandemic. I hope that whatever the results are today that this community can move forward, deal with the pandemic and work together in dealing with this crisis.”
Wallaceburg Councillor Carmen McGregor, who is also the president of the provincial organization the Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa), said she recently signed a letter on behalf of the organization lobbying Christine Elliott, the Minister of Health in the Province of Ontario, and Premier Doug Ford, calling for mandated masking across Ontario.
“We spend a great deal of time dealing with all public health issues,” she said.
“I have struggled terribly, because I don’t like to go against our Medical Officer of Health’s direction. But what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard throughout the Province and people that I’ve talked to, I don’t think it is necessarily hurting. Yes, there needs to be an understanding of masks and people are gaining and gathering information all the time.”
Councillor Carmen McGregor added: “This has been tough on each and every one of us.”
Wallaceburg Councillor Aaron Hall said he made an effort to keep an open mind throughout the entire process.
“I’ve wrestled with it… have struggled with it, but I have tried to weigh all the information I’ve heard, read and discovered while preparing for this evening,” Hall said.
“I told myself with this, and even before being elected, that I would always do what I felt was right. And tonight, I believe the right thing to do, and a way for us to enhance the safety of our residents during this pandemic, especially, is to make masks mandatory across Chatham-Kent.”
Hall added: “The pandemic has challenged all of us, everywhere. This issue has challenged us as a Council and as a community, but making tough decisions is what we were elected to do.”
East Kent Councillor Steve Pinsonneault said the proper process should have been followed with this issue.
“I personally don’t think we should be making policy on the fly,” he said.
“This by-law should have went through the policy process in my opinion.”
Chatham Councillor Doug Sulman said he felt the draft by-law should have been sent back to staff for more information and a special meeting should have been called, allowing for proper public consultation.
“I’m concerned that the education portion isn’t addressed at all,” he said.
“There is no time to get signs in every location. Those are the kind of things we did with the smoking by-law. If you’re going to do it, do it right. when we rush things, we end up with messes.”
Mayor Darrin Canniff, who had publicly stated over the past few weeks that he would support the decision by Dr. Colby to not mandate masking, said he would be supporting Councillor Brock McGregor’s motion on Monday.
“Dr. Colby will not be taking this as a slight,” Mayor Canniff said.
“Him and I have chatted about this an awful lot, realizing there is medical and political decisions. A lot of this is political but it is medical if it can help at all, as Councillor (Melissa) Harrigan pointed out, if it can prevent one case, it’s worth it.”
Here is our original story on the issue:
Watch for more on this story in the coming days.