The City of Fernie approved their five year financial plan at a May 11 council meeting.

Encouragement vs. enforcement: Businesses, municipalities weigh mask expectations

Fernie Mayor Ange Qualizza said it was important to focus on voluntary compliance over bylaw enforcement

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across Canada and in British Columbia, businesses and municipalities have been grappling with how to encourage – or enforce – the use of face coverings, which are recommended by Canada’s Chief Health Officer and British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer.

For the most part, business communities are a patchwork of approaches, with some making mask use mandatory and others simply recommending them. Municipalities are the same – all are bound by provincial health orders limiting numbers indoors, but some have opted to adopt temporary bylaws that make masks mandatory in indoor spaces, while others adopt protocols for their own staff.

In the City of Calgary, the bylaw covers all indoor public spaces – including businesses, malls, public transit and any other space where physical distancing is difficult. Lethbridge, Canmore and Kelowna all have similar bylaws.

READ MORE: Fernie Chamber: Good winter season is “ours to lose”

The City of Fernie has opted to not adopt a bylaw, with Mayor Ange Qualizza explaining she beleived it was better for the city and the community to aim for voluntary compliance, highlighting issues with enforcement.

“I travelled to Canmore to observe the mandatory mask bylaw, and enforcement was a huge challenge for them,” she said.

“If we can get to a place where we choose masks, we will have much more success. Let’s not forget that to keep our communities safe, masks are only one tool – we need to get back to the basics and really focus on limiting the number of people we have close contact with.”

Qualizza said that the city would be launching its own campaign to push for voluntary mask use that will run in parallel to the Fernie Chamber of Commerce’s own campaign launched earlier this week – the city will also be considering adopting a mandatory mask policy “for all (City of Fernie) indoor facilities,” at the Monday Nov. 9 council meeting, she said.

Recently there have been news reports of abuse directed at city staff and business owners around British Columbia due to COVID protocols; RCMP in Trail reported they were called to two separate instances in late October when customers refused to wear face coverings when asked to by businesses there.

READ MORE: One man fined, another banned from Trail store for refusing to wear masks indoors

In Kimberley, the city’s manager of parks and facilities resigned earlier this month, with City of Kimberley Chief Administrative Officer, Scott Sommerville, thanking Clark for his service and work in re-opening city facilities, before defending city staff and their record for keeping the community safe, implying heavily that Clark left due to abuse directed towards staff over closures of city facilities.

Qualizza said that in Fernie city staff were facing similar hurdles in navigating the re-opening of facilities.

“City of Fernie staff and Council right now absolutely are feeling the impact of rising expectations and the stress from our community,” she said.

“We have not been immune to strong and angry language.”

Qualizza pointed to the city’s re-opening schedule as proof of the hard work staff had been doing, adding that a lack of dry space being available due to the School District not opening facilities to the public was an added burden on already stressed city staff and facilities.

“I ask the community right now to practice patience – our strength as a community was how we came together during the initial response to Covid, so let’s remember to continue to support one another, and be kind. We are all working towards the same goals of community health.”

Fernie’s Chief Administration Officer, Michael Boronowski backed city staff for the way they had responded to the pandemic and ensured continuity of services.

“Civility and compassion are now more important than ever, and I thank all our employees for their dedication to their jobs and to this community,” he said.

As of Nov. 6, there are 3,389 active cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia, including 6 cases reported in the East Kootenay Health Service Delivery area between Oct. 23 and Nov. 5. Cumulatively, there have been 45 cases in the area since the beginning of 2020. The increase in cases has seen British Columbia bring back certain limitations.

In neighbouring Alberta, there are 6,230 active cases in the province, including 333 in the South Zone of Alberta Health Services, which covers communities neighbouring the Elk Valley.

READ MORE: City of Fernie seeks to hire more staff
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