'I can drink beer in public': Coder pokes fun at Edmonton mask exemption cards with DIY website
EDMONTON -- Edmonton's mask exemption card program was swiftly paused just days after it was launched over concerns it would be abused.
But a local programmer is making it so that anyone who wants an exemption for anything — from speed limits to how many animals one person can own — can create it themselves.
Troy Pavlek was just one of many people worried after the City of Edmonton said it would issue exemption cards for its mandatory face covering bylaw on an "honour system" at various recreation centres.
"As soon as I heard the exemption cards were issued I thought, 'that's gonna get abused.' And then when it got abused a day later, go figure, the most predictable thing ended up happening," Pavlek said.
The exemption card program was suspended just five days after it was announced, with the city saying some 6,000 of the cards had been issued in that time.
Mayor Don Iveson said while some Edmontonians do have legitimate health issues exempting them from wearing a mask in public spaces under the bylaw, the distribution mechanism for the cards was such that those seeking one did not require any referral or documentation to claim it.
Pavlek said he wanted to bring attention to the issue, so he leaned on his skills as a coder and created a tongue-in-cheek website titled "Generate your own bylaw exemption card."
"At the end of the day, we can tell people to eat their peas as much as we want, but the way you get people to engage with stuff is make it fun and make it funny," he said.
The website resonated with Edmontonians who also saw the humour in the exemption card program controversy, so much so that the website was used more than 3,500 times in just the three hours after it launched Friday.
Some of the notable submissions include:
But the generator also caught the city's attention as well.
Pavlek said he was asked by the city to take down his tweets showing some of the mock exemption cards and the link to his website. The city confirmed it was because he was using the City of Edmonton's corporate logo.
Pavlek had some fun with that request too and said he'd add a red 'X' over the logo to resolve the issue.
While Pavlek said he understands the need for some exemptions under the bylaw, he'd like to see heavier vetting if the program resumes.
"I think the card is a really good middle ground to facilitate that conversation," he said. "The problem is…the city has to do some vetting. They have to do a legitimate card."
All of the cards handed out so far remain valid. At a Thursday committee meeting, one of the solutions discussed to prevent abuse was to fine people who use cards improperly.
The mask bylaw does not apply to anyone under the age of two, those who cannot put on or remove the mask on their own and those who cannot due to a physical or mental concern or limitation, or in educational and health care facilities.