By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

Concerned citizens have recently urged the District of Invermere to consider mandating mask in all public spaces during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The request came in the form of letters received by Invermere council during its most recent meeting. However, council members were quick to point out that, unlike some other Canadian municipalities, the district of Invermere lacks the regulatory authority to make mask-wearing mandatory.

The two separate letters – one written by Lynda Tutty, the other by Joan Rouse – were discussed during Invermere council’s on Nov 10 meeting. “Medical experts agree that wearing masks in public venues will significantly reduce the spread of the virus. Asking/suggesting/prodding people to wear masks does not convey the same sense of urgency as a mandated requirement for our community from our community leaders,” wrote Tutty in her letter.

Tutty noted that during the Friends of the Library outdoor book sale in August, masks were required (and available at a nominal cost for those that didn’t have them) and that all 650 people who attended complied without question.

“Even without penalties, a mask mandate is likely to result in increased mask usage. It will send the message that our elected officials are taking the health of their citizens seriously,” wrote Tutty.

Rouse’s letter echoed similar themes and also pointed out that “it is unfair to expect staff of local businesses to have to deal with customers that are refusing to comply with the business’s regulation.”

She added that recently she and her husband witnessed two unpleasant confrontations over the matter in local businesses, writing that “a staff member had to tell two customers that they couldn’t be served as they were not wearing a mask. On each occasion, the customer became belligerent. This is not fair to staff who are paid minimum wage at best.”

Rouse pointed to successfully implemented mask mandates in Calgary and other municipalities.

“It is now easy to tell the Albertans/ Calgarians in town as they, for the most part, are all wearing masks, even on the street, due to the mandatory regulation put in by Calgary council. It has simply become a fact of life for many cities and towns globally,” she wrote. “I also think that there is an added urgency due to the recent local increase in COVID-19 positive cases.”

“We simply don’t have the legislative ability to mandate masks across the public landscape,” said Invermere councillor Greg Anderson in response to the letters, pointing out that municipalities in Alberta can create COVID-19 mask bylaws if they wish, but in B.C., only the provincial government has the authority to make masks mandatory.

Councillor Kayja Becker was quick to point out that even though the district can’t make people wear masks while out and about in all public spaces, it can make masks a must in its own district-owned facilities, such as the Columbia Valley Centre, although she added that before doing so, council would need to have a discussion around how different group use the facility in different ways to make sure that a mask mandate wouldn’t unfairly affect some groups.

Questions came from at least two members in the audience during the meeting, asking if the district can’t make masks mandatory in public spaces, why doesn’t it at least recommend them.

“We are encouraging masks, as a municipal entity,” said Invermere mayor Al Miller. “But what I am hearing here, is that people want a more formal message that in the district of Invermere, it is recommended that you wear a mask. We’ll do that.”