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Region extends mask bylaw until the end of the year

A mask mandate will remain in effect for Waterloo Region, as council this week voted to extend the requirement that was due to expire at month’s end.

Face coverings will be mandatory until the end of the year, unless circumstances allow for the bylaw to be revoked sooner.

“This bylaw requires individuals to wear a face-covering in public places, public areas of businesses, places of worship and municipal buildings as well as common areas of multi-residential buildings and taxi cabs,” explained public health official Richard Brooks as regional council met Tuesday afternoon.

Unlike other municipalities, the onus to comply is placed on the individuals rather than business in the region, he added.

“The important point here is that there was a policy decision at the time to focus in on the individuals and not on the businesses by making the businesses responsible for ensuring compliance. The exception is that the bylaw requires owners and operators of these prescribed places to post signage requiring face coverings.”

This week’s vote was the latest extension to a bylaw first introduced last July and subsequently extended in September when it became clear the pandemic was not coming to a swift end.

Councillors heard arguments for and against the face-covering bylaw, with some calling for harsher penalties for those who fail to comply and others looking for measures to prevent discrimination against those who cannot wear a mask.

In debating the motion put forth by regional Chair Karen Redman, Coun. Sue Foxton of North Dumfries suggested an earlier end-date to the bylaw, pointing to a growing sense of pandemic fatigue.

“People keep hoping the vaccine will allow us to come back to some type of normal, to keep hoping we’ll get this under control. A six-month period is like a punch in the gut to people, especially those who have isolated for long periods of time. Those who are seniors have not gone outside for almost two years – this is an onerous burden to put upon them,” said Foxton, calling for the extension to expire at the end of September.

Her argument didn’t gain traction, however. 

The bylaw is in keeping with provincial regulations regarding masks that require a face covering in public indoor spaces and whenever physical distancing is a challenge. The list includes inside stores, event spaces, entertainment facilities and common areas in hotels, and vehicles that operate as part of a business or organization, including taxis and rideshares.

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