Edmonton facing backlash after handing out mask exemption cards
Since masks became mandatory in Edmonton on Aug. 1, 3,866 mask exemption cards have been handed out and people are pushing back.
City officials began distributing the cards over the weekend at seven different recreation centres. Although they are intended for residents who meet one of the exemptions to the mandatory mask rule, obtaining a card is based on the honour system and not proof from medical professionals.
"City staff are not in a position to assess health information," said city spokeswoman Chrystal Coleman in a statement on Monday. "The city trusts Edmontonians will view and use this program the way it was intended."
People picking up a card are able to do so for family members who may also be exempt from the rule, meaning they could leave the recreation centre with more than one in hand. The cards will soon be available by mail as well.
This has, of course, led to concern that people who don't really need the cards will abuse the system.
The city is Edmonton is making a stupid choice with this. The average person isn't going to ask someone is they have an exemption card. They're just going to assume that if this person can get away with not wearing a mask then so can I.— ZombiePiano (@ZombiePiano) August 12, 2020
"Masks were mandated because many could not be trusted to voluntarily wear masks," another Twitter user pointed out. "Exemption cards should only be issued by medical professionals. Handing out cards with no questions asked is ridiculous and invites abuse."
Business organizations in the area are also worried about the extra complications that this will bring to local businesses.
"Now businesses have to try to determine if they're willing to trust that person on an honour system, that that is a legitimate health issue," said Cherie Klassen, executive director at the Old Strathcona Business Association. "It brings the policing back to the business to have to deal with it and it potentially creates confrontation."
While Klassen said that most businesses they work with are trying to serve customers who are not wearing a mask, even if it means not serving them at the store's physical location, confrontations have already occurred.
She added that the Old Strathcona Business Association supports their businesses' right to choose to deny service to customers without masks as well as people's right and need for an exemption.
"We absolutely respect and stand up for people's right to choose and understand that there are people with real medical conditions that need an exemption," she said. "But the bigger issue is the lack of qualifications and credentials to obtain these [cards] and how easily accessible they are."
In a response to the backlash on Tuesday, the City of Edmonton's COVID-19 task team chair David Aitken said that the mask exemption cards are a response to feedback from people who are exempt who are being confronted and denied service.
"If we see a significant reduction in our compliance levels that would certainly be one of the indicators that we would look at changing the program," Aitken said. "It's unfortunate and disappointing to know that some people will see this program as a way to avoid wearing a mask or face covering when they are able to do so."
Edmonton's mask bylaw requires all who are able to wear a mask in an indoor public space and while using public transportation.
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