The COVID-19 pandemic is over in Canada. According to the daily statistics published by Health Canada, infections peaked in mid-April and have been declining ever since. Many Canadian cities and even entire provinces go days without reporting a single death from the virus. Although every death is a tragedy, the total toll of the virus is less than 9,000 souls — the same as an average flu season in Canada.
Yet for whatever reason, governments across Canada have decided that now — not back in March or April — is the time to make masks mandatory for the general public. It’s a decision that has a questionable basis in medical science and seems to have more to do with politics.
Mask bylaws contain many legal exemptions
But a review of several of the mask bylaws shows that legislators might actually be aware that their laws are unenforceable from a civil liberties point of view.
For example, Toronto’s mask bylaw, Bylaw 541-2020, has a number of exemptions built right into the law, including
Section 2(a)(2): persons with an underlying medical condition which inhibits their ability to wear a Mask
Section 2(a)(5): persons who are reasonably accommodated by not wearing a Mask or Face Covering in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The Ontario Human Rights Code contains a list of grounds, including “creed” — which means a set of deeply-held beliefs.
It is illegal for shopkeepers to ask members of the public to prove they’re exempt?
Most importantly, the bylaw specifically forbids shopkeepers from asking customers to prove that they have any of these exemptions,
Section 2(d): The policy shall not require employees or members of the public to provide proof of any of the exemptions set out in section 2(a).
That’s the wording of the Toronto bylaw, which covers Canada’s largest city. Other cities across Canada are adopting similar mask bylaws, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll document the exemptions in those jurisdictions.
Advice for Shopkeepers
We recently asked a prominent civil liberties lawyer, Aaron Rosenberg, to review Toronto’s mask bylaw, and to tell shopkeepers what they need to know about mask exemptions.
Here’s what he said:
Advice for members of the public
We also asked Aaron what he’d tell members of the public who have an exemption:
Wallet-sized Mask Exemption card
These bylaws are inherently unfair, because they put shopkeepers in the position of being the police, and they put customers in the position of being suspects. It pits businesses against their own clients, and it gives just one more piece of red tape to companies already having a difficult time. It’s unlikely that the average shopkeeper has taken the time to read all of the exemptions contained within the law.
That’s why we have produced a Mask Exemption card, suitable for carrying in a wallet. It cites the key provisions of the mask bylaw that provide exemptions to customers, as well as the provision that forbids shopkeepers from demanding that customers prove that they’re exempt. And in case any shopkeeper wants to learn more, the website www.MaskExemption.ca is marked so that shopkeepers can learn more.
We are making the Mask Exemption card available for free for downloading and printing — you can get it right here. Feel free to chip in a voluntary donation to help us cover the legal costs for drafting this card.
And if you prefer to buy a professionally-produced card, we’re selling those for $10 (including postage) — just click here to order yours, and we’ll mail it out to you directly.
Right now our card has the Toronto bylaw details on it, but we’ll have other cards that are applicable to other jurisdictions too.
Be kind to each other — but don’t live in fear
The worst part of this mask bylaw is that it turns Canadians against each other — pitting shopkeepers against their own customers. Hopefully, this Mask Exemption bylaw will demonstrate to both sides that it is perfectly legal to NOT wear a mask if the exemptions apply — and that shopkeepers don’t have to act like police when someone uses the bylaw’s many exemptions.