'A few people have let us down': Mayor says mask exemption program was being abused too often
EDMONTON -- City of Edmonton officials say more than 6,000 of its COVID-19 mask exemption cards were handed out, but that the processes to get them was being abused too often.
The exemption program was intended as a compassionate alternative for those with conditions preventing them from wearing masks, and who may have faced difficulties complying with the city's mandatory face covering bylaw.
But the city says over the five days the cards were distributed, it became evident some were taking advantage of the process, specifically the lack of medical documentation needed to secure an exemption.
"A few people have let us down here with their behavior, and spoiled what I think was well intentioned, but has now become sadly, a bit of an object of summer ridicule," said Mayor Don Iveson.
The city lacks the legal authority to ask for medical information with only the province able to ask for such data within the bounds of the law.
"Obviously we've received lots of criticism about how to do it, but it was from the spirit of trying to support those that needed support," said interim manager Adam Laughlin.
The program also faced criticism from councillors on Thursday for being unilaterally introduced by city administration, and without consulting councillors or the mayor.
Coun. Mike Nickel called the card program "an utter boondoggle."
"Administration did the best they could to accommodate the mandatory mask bylaw, but it was plagued with issues from the start."
Among the alternatives discussed Thursday was a fine for anyone improperly claiming a mask exemption.
City administration says about 85 per cent of Edmontonians are respecting the bylaw that made masking up mandatory in public.
According to the City of Edmonton, the rate nears 90 per cent and 96 per cent on city transit and in city recreation facilities, respectively.
“The pandemic has shown that the large majority of Edmontonians care about one other and are doing the right thing,” David Aitken said at City Hall on Tuesday.
“We trust that compassion will continue as those who can wear masks do so, and those who cannot are treated with understanding.”
The bylaw – passed 10-3 – came into effect Aug. 1.