The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has approved a bylaw making face coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces, effective July 23.
At a special meeting Thursday, councillors agreed to a bylaw based on the one passed in St. Catharines, but with some changes.
The bylaw allows for a mask or other face covering, including a bandana or scarf constructed of cloth, linen or other similar fabric, provided it is large enough to completely cover the mouth, nose and chin.
Councillors agreed that face shields be also be included.
Enclosed public spaces where face coverings are mandatory include stores, restaurants — although not while eating or drinking — grocery and convenience stores, shopping malls, places of worship, libraries, museums, community centres, theatres, special event venues, indoor sports and recreational facilities, gyms and yoga or dance studios, arenas, common areas of hotels, and other businesses, organizations and places that are permitted to operate in accordance with emergency orders.
Exemptions to the bylaw includes child care facilities, day camps for children, schools and postsecondary institutions, private and public transportation, hospitals, health facilities and health professional offices.
NOTL councillors decided children under the age of 10 should be exempt.
Those with medical conditions are also exempt, with no verifications needed, as has been recommended in other municipalities.
The NOTL bylaw does not include penalties — it says enforcement will first take the form of education and voluntary compliance. Signs will be provided to local businesses, citing the bylaw number, with the intent of encouraging cooperation.
There was also a discussion about wording in the bylaw that Coun. Allan Bisback said he thought might be “overreach.” It called for businesses to adopt a policy regarding mandatory face coverings, post the policy, train people on the policy and potentially produce it for inspection of an officer, he said, adding that was a lot to ask of business owners. With interim CAO Sheldon Randall agreeing it could be overreach, and the wording was changed to remove that responsibility from business owners.
Coun. Gary Burroughs was concerned about the lack of enforcement. “We pass bylaws because we believe that’s what should happen,” he said.
But with stretched resources, councillors agreed they would rather rely on education and voluntary compliance. Craig Larmour, planning director, said if an enforceable bylaw was approved, additional bylaw officers would be required. “We just don’t have the staff.” A large number of complaints could be expected to come in from across the municipality, as with with physical distancing, he said. “We would be thinly stretched and beyond capacity.”
The bylaw was approved unanimously, to end when the state of emergency ends or council decides to repeal it. It becomes effective Thursday, July 23, allowing seven days for signage to be prepared and business owners to adapt.