By Lethbridge Herald on August 10, 2020.
City council passed first and second readings of a temporary bylaw which will make face coverings mandatory in all public areas within the city of Lethbridge.
The first two readings of the bylaw passed 6-2 during Monday’s council meeting, but will have to return to third and final reading at the next council meeting after failing to receive unanimous consent from council to do all three readings in one day.
The bylaw, sponsored by Coun. Rob Miyashiro, received majority support from councillors after four amendments were introduced followed by an in-depth discussion on each amendment.
Mayor Chris Spearman suggested the first amendment which would exempt anyone who can’t wear a mask due to an underlying medical issue or disability from having to wear one. That amendment passed unanimously.
The second amendment, also introduced by Spearman, stated that any business or facility with a public area must post signs at entryways informing those entering that the City’s mandatory face covering bylaw is in effect.
That amendment passed by a vote of 6-2 with Councillors Blaine Hyggen and Ryan Parker opposed. Coun. Joe Mauro wasn’t present during Monday’s council meeting.
The third amendment, proposed by Coun. Belinda Crowson in co-ordination with Deputy Mayor Jeffrey Coffman, created a sunset clause on the “temporary” bylaw. The bylaw would come into effect immediately after third reading on Aug. 24 if passed, and would automatically expire as of the first council meeting in January after Dec. 31, 2020 unless extended by another motion of council.
This amendment passed by a vote of 6-2 with Hyggen and Parker opposed.
The final amendment, introduced by Coffman, struck from the original bylaw any mention of a six-month jail term for those who do not pay the $100 fine associated with failing to comply with the bylaw. This is standard wording in most municipal bylaws where someone refuses to pay a fine, agreed Coffman, but felt it sent the wrong message in this case. He said the emphasis should be on public awareness and education rather than on enforcement. Coffman felt the $100 fine was a sufficient penalty in and of itself.
All on council agreed this should be struck, but Parker and Hyggen said they would vote against it, and the entire bylaw, in protest of the haste which council was proceeding by not allowing the usual two weeks between first reading and subsequent readings. They felt this did not allow for the public to have its full say on the bylaw. The amendment passed by a vote of 6-2.
On the entirety of the motion Coun. Rob Miyashiro encouraged his fellow councillors to listen to the medical advice on masking and proceed with all three readings on Monday. In order to do all three readings in one council meeting councillors must unanimously agree to allow for third reading.
Parker, backed by Hyggen, said he was adamantly not willing to do that. Calling the bylaw as it stands the “lawless bylaw” because council seemed reluctant to enforce it anyway, Parker felt council should instead reinforce positive messaging on voluntary compliance instead of mandating compliance by statute.
“If anything, this will divide the community,” he said. “You will get your libertarians who will say, ‘No one is going to make me wear a mask.’ Others will say you should wear a mask. Instead of bringing the community together this will divide the community.”
He went on to state, at the very least, more community consultation and feedback was needed before council could be in any position to pass anything as “game changing” as this bylaw.
Coun. Belinda Crowson felt differently. She said the bylaw would help “nudge” those unsure of whether or not they should wear a mask into making the right decision, and would help advance public education and awareness on this issue.
“Sometimes we resist doing something until it is mandated; until it does become the rule,” she said. “And with regards to various businesses, they are looking to us for leadership.”
After debate, council voted 6-2 to pass second reading of the temporary mandatory face mask bylaw.
Miyashiro’s motion to hold third reading on Monday was defeated after Hyggen and Parker voted against it.
Miyashiro, while happy with the overall bylaw and its amendments, was disappointed council would have to delay third reading for another two weeks. He felt councillors already had all the information they needed to make a decision.
“Come on,” he said, “we have been in COVID shutdown since March. I work in a seniors’ centre; I know exactly what the issues are with COVID and how it is spread, and about what precautions you need to take. This is council’s time to shine, and we are really not doing it.”
Despite voting to hold third reading on Monday, Mayor Chris Spearman felt giving councillors who needed more time and the public another two weeks to mull over the bylaw was not an unreasonable request.
“There was a proposal to consider all three readings to move forward with the bylaw as soon as possible,” he stated. “Not all members of council were comfortable with that, but we did have an extensive debate on the bylaw today … What this (delay) does is it gives the community notice city council is serious about a mask bylaw, and one is pending.”
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