Below is the letter I wrote to City Council expressing my concerns about the mask law and the behaviour it is encouraging.
I’m writing to City Council hoping to address my deepening concern that the new mask rules seem to be fueling discriminatory behaviour and that they do not conform to the recommendations of Sick Kids Hospital.
Sick Kids Hospital recommends that masks not be mandatory for children under 5: “Masking for children depends on many factors, including age, ability, willingness and safety. In general, we will mask patients age 6 and older, but if your child is not able or willing to wear a mask, then they will not have to do so… Masks should not generally be used for children under age 6 who are not able to understand how to wear a mask or communicate if they become distressed.” Not only is it difficult to explain to a toddler why you want them to wear a mask, it’s impossible to get a resistant toddler to wear one. And people are discriminating against my son and refusing him healthcare because of it. I apologize for the length of this email, but I felt it prudent to include some examples of this growing pattern of disturbing behaviour.
On June 15, a mere 5 days after his 3rd birthday and a couple weeks before the mask rules came into effect, the receptionist of an eye doctor in our neighbourhood denied my son’s appointment because my wife could not get him to wear a mask. For days my son had an ongoing redness in an eye that soon spread to the other eye, so by remote our family doctor got us a referral to a local eye doctor. Upon seeing my son without a mask, the receptionist refused to let him in. My wife tried to get our rambunctious willful toddler to wear a mask, to no avail, and the receptionist would not allow him to see the doctor. Our family doctor said this was not appropriate, and then directed us to Sick Kids’ recommendation.
People are feeling empowered to impose their subjective extreme interpretation of proper mask behaviour on others, and it’s becoming a common occurrence to see employees of businesses exercising what they see as lawful authority over others. There seems to be a new culture budding, where fanatical mask wearers feel fully justified in forcing others to conform not to the law, but to their personal preferred behaviour. The bylaw states that employees must be “trained in the requirements of the policy and this By-law” but from my observations that does not seem to be the case.
An increasingly common encounter is the employee keen to pounce on anything they see as a violation and eager to deny service if a person does not conform to their interpretation of mask laws. Like the ice cream store clerk who, despite my wife and I wearing masks, immediately pounced and tried to deny my son entry for not wearing one, until her manager told her it’s ok, he’s too young. Or the cashier at Metro last weekend, where I’ve been shopping throughout the lockdown, for the first ever not allowing me to bag my groceries while he was working the cash.
I knew the routine. I can’t put my reusable bags onto the counter, I must take the groceries and bag them in my cart. But then he told me I couldn’t do that. Confused, I asked why? He said because if I bag my groceries I will be less than 2 metres from him. Even though it would be barely within 2 metres, I said that’s what mask wearing is for, for situations when social distancing is difficult. He said it doesn’t matter, this is for his safety. I told him COVID is not like fleas, it can’t just jump off of me, we’re both wearing masks and I wasn’t even facing in his direction at all. It mattered not, not only did he refuse to let me bag my groceries, he then dictated where I was to stand. While I waited I read the posted store policy on social distancing and masks, and nowhere did it indicate any policy on bagging groceries. I asked him about this, he admitted it’s not store policy, it’s HIS policy. Then while I bagged my groceries, with my back to him, he stood aside from the cash as if getting any closer was going to infect him.
There clearly is a lack of education on the purpose of mask-wearing and an ignorance of how the virus spreads, and it would seem many people do not see masks as protecting others, but incorrectly as protecting themselves. How else do you explain the very frequent sight of people walking alone outdoors in the blazing heat, no one else around for blocks, wearing a mask? Or people who are obviously not cab or Uber drivers wearing a mask while alone in their car, often with the windows rolled up? Or cyclists wearing masks as they zoom by people at +20km/hr? There seems to be an impression amongst people that COVID can be easily caught in the air, even outdoor air, as opposed to being spread primarily by close contact with an infected individual indoors.
Governments, especially our provincial one, were quick to whip up hysteria in order to scare enough people to elicit a critical mass of compliant behaviour to quell the spread. And quell the spread we did, the mask laws were ironically put in place after our numbers started bottoming out. But now there seems to be no action to dispel the panic, in fact the new mask laws seem only to add to it. People are getting all kinds of erroneous ideas in their heads and there seems to be no action to counter it, so they continue behaving in an extreme fashion while believing they are the reasonable ones.
There is a very strange combination of paranoia and power-tripping going on, and people seem to feel fully empowered and justified in this behaviour. The lockdown has already had detrimental effects on mental health, was there any consideration given to the psychological and social consequences of enshrining into law a culture of mask wearing? Was there any thought that this will empower the ignorant to force others to their preferred behaviour? What happens if after the law is lifted some businesses decide to keep the requirement in place?
Here’s an extreme but plausible example of how this discrimination could become a serious problem: A low income single mother, who can’t find anyone to watch her child and can’t afford a food delivery service, needs to go to the grocery store. But her toddler won’t wear a mask. Well now every business is fully justified in denying her entry, and her and her toddler go hungry until they can convince someone to shop for them. And as pretty much all our businesses are private, they have the right to deny entry. Or what about someone who truly cannot wear a mask, or the other exemptions in the bylaw that require no proof they are exempt? Businesses seem to have the right to deny ANYONE, including valid exemptions. This is the culture I see breeding, a culture of division between hysterical mask wearers and everyone else who doesn’t conform to their ideology of mask-wearing and social distancing protocol.
The questions I have for city council are:
- Will Council amend the law to conform to the age recommendations of Sick Kids Hospital?
- Will Council put out more public education about the science of virus spread and mask-wearing, and also information requesting businesses not to discriminate based on subjective interpretations of mask-wearing protocols?
- Is there to be any recourse for people denied by businesses unfairly discriminating against them or enforcing an extreme interpretation of mask laws?
- If Toronto’s numbers continue on a downward trajectory, will council consider lifting the law before the Sept 30 expiry?
I know there’s a lot of paranoia about a second wave and all efforts are meant to prevent that. But there’s a larger picture on the ground that is emerging, and it’s tearing at the very fabric of society. We cannot allow mask laws to become a justification for the fanatical to impose their will on anyone who does not behave as fanatically as they do. I hope Council will give the unintended repercussions of this law closer consideration, and will ensure it cannot be used to unfairly discriminate against people.