Edmonton mask bylaw remains in place for now as other municipalities consider repealing

· The Pulse
By Jackson Spring
in the Regional Roundup

The provincial government has said it will remove its mandatory mask requirement on July 1, leaving municipalities to decide whether to lift local rules that require face coverings in indoor public spaces.

Edmonton city council voted on a bylaw amendment to suspend its local mask requirements per a recommendation from administration on June 22. Though the amendment passed two readings by a narrow margin, unanimous consent was required to give the bylaw a third reading, which Coun. Aaron Paquette voted against.

A motion from Coun. Jon Dziadyk to hold a special city council meeting on June 25 to vote on a third reading passed 10-2. If the bylaw amendment passes, local mask requirements will be lifted on July 1, in conjunction with the province.

The provincial mask requirements, which were instituted last December, are being lifted as part of Stage 3 of the province's reopening plan, which is scheduled for two weeks after 70% of Albertans aged 12 and up receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. On June 18, Premier Jason Kenney said this target was hit in time for Canada Day.

Last summer and fall, many Edmonton-area municipalities instituted temporary face coverings bylaws in absence of provincial rules. At the time, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson expressed dissatisfaction that the province was merely recommending the use of masks in public spaces, and said "mandating face coverings is an important step to protecting Edmontonians."

Many municipalities decided to coordinate their mask requirements to prevent people from travelling between them to avoid the rules.

"A unified regional approach is required to ensure public health measures are implemented effectively," said a Strathcona County press release from Oct. 5.

Now as COVID-19 case numbers in the province continue to fall and vaccination rates continue to rise, local leaders are considering following the province's lead and removing their face coverings bylaws, if they haven't already expired.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson wearing a mask during a June 8 update on COVID-19 in the city. (Courtesy of the City of Edmonton)

Here is what the region's leaders and experts have said on the subject so far:

  • The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) urged Edmonton and Calgary to keep their face covering bylaws in place beyond the provincial re-opening plan, citing concerns about the growing Delta variant of the virus. "It is clear that lifting all restrictions, including the ban on indoor social gatherings, is a bad idea," reads a letter from the association.
  • The City of Edmonton's bylaw was scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2021, but administration recommended deactivating the bylaw in conjunction with Stage 3. "While we do have clear medical evidence that the latest (COVID-19) peak is behind us, we don't know the perfect metric or target to indicate when to drop the mandatory face coverings bylaw," said city manager Andre Corbould in a June 22 council meeting.
  • Beaumont's mask mandate expired at the end of January, according to a comment from the city on a post to its official Facebook page.
  • The City of Leduc already suspended its mask mandate in March, following a unanimous city council vote. "If the province has (a mask mandate), and we can enforce it, then we don't need our own," said Leduc councillor Bill Hamilton in a March 8 meeting.
  • Strathcona County's bylaw expired automatically at the end of March. A motion was introduced by Coun. Katie Berghofer on March 23 to save the bylaw by removing the expiry date, which was defeated with a 5-4 vote. "We don't know what might come down the line," Berghofer said.
  • St. Albert and Stony Plain's bylaws are set to expire automatically in conjunction with Stage 3, per amendments passed by the cities' councils earlier this month. "I feel comfortable leaving things in the hands of the provincial health experts," said St. Albert Coun. Sheena Hughes in a June 8 meeting.
  • Some St. Albert city councillors expressed concerns about the Delta variant, but said if there was a need to mandate masks in the future, city council would be able to reinstate the rules. "I trust that Mayor Heron will call a special council meeting if we're really seeing those regional problems that we saw last summer," said Coun. Natalie Jolie.
  • Morinville town council voted unanimously on June 6 to amend its mask bylaw to automatically expire on June 30.
  • Parkland County council and Fort Saskatchewan city council voted to immediately repeal their local mask mandates on June 22. "Some people feel that this should stay on — I do believe that the best advice has always been to follow what Alberta Health Services is recommending," said Coun. Tracey Melnyk.
  • Spruce Grove city council and Devon town council will be revisiting their local bylaws on June 28, officials from both municipalities told Taproot. "Based on the initial decision to implement it and the parameters set forth, it will most likely be repealed," said Devon Mayor Ray Ralph in an emailed statement.
  • The towns of Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, and Redwater, and Leduc County did not implement local mask requirements. "The province is responsible for public health," said Morinville Mayor Barry Turner during a Sept. 22 town council meeting in which a proposed mandatory mask bylaw was voted down.