Wearing a mask will be mandatory in enclosed public spaces in Waterloo Region on Monday, July 13.
Penalties for the offence, however, will not be given liberally, according to the Region's Chief Administrative Officer.
Mike Murray said at a media briefing Tuesday that the new bylaw is meant to give support to local businesses, but enforcement will give the public the benefit of the doubt.
"If somebody self identifies, and says, 'I'm not able to wear a mask,' the bylaw is not requiring them to show any proof of that," he said. "We're taking people at their word. We would encourage businesses and others to just take people at their word."
That raises the question of whether anyone ever would be charged under the bylaw.
"I think it's possible that there would be circumstances where somebody was consistently, repeatedly and intentionally violating the bylaw," said Murray. "And I could picture scenarios where, in those kinds of circumstances - consistent, repeated, intentional - where we might pursue charges."
In a situation where someone was showing repeated, intentional contempt and non-compliance for the bylaw, Murray also said it would be possible for that person to tell bylaw officers that they aren't able to wear a mask, and continue on their way.
"There are several other scenarios that are possible," he noted.
Issuing a charge on Grand River Transit property will be a relatively simple process, if it comes to that. Those people will be given a ticket of $240.
The process gets a bit more murky when it comes to other public spaces.
"Right now, in that bylaw, we would have to issue a summons. We don't have the ability under the mask bylaw to issue a ticket," Murray said.
Those summoned to court would have to appear before a Judge or Justice of the Peace, and would be fined an amount that could reach up to $1,000. The court date wouldn't be until at least September, though, since those courts aren't sitting right now.
In the meantime, Waterloo Region is applying to the Province for a "set fine," which is basically the ability to issue a ticket for a certain amount of money. In this case, they would be looking to match the charge that offenders would receive on the GRT of $240.
The onus of enforcement will largely be on businesses in Waterloo Region, though none will face fines for a lack of enforcement.
They will, however, face fines for not displaying the bylaw on the premises.
"There's no requirement for businesses to enforce mask-wearing," explained Murray. "There is a requirement in the bylaw for businesses to post signage that says, 'In this premise, you are required to wear a mask.'"
Murray again stressed that repeated, deliberate disobedience of the bylaw would be required for a fine to be issued.
That's largely the attitude around the new bylaw: Regional staff don't want to see anyone charged, and they're calling for understanding and kindness from the community towards those you see not wearing one.
According to Regional Chair Karen Redman, the strategy is the honour system.
"We believe people in Waterloo Region care about others, and we also recognize that as we look at phase three, there will probably be more visitors coming to our region. We have a lot to offer. We're hoping that they, too, will comply with the local bylaw," said Redman.
"One of the things we've been doing is monitoring the experience in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, and they have a fairly onerous regime on businesses. Businesses are the class of that public health order that are responsible for enforcing it. That fine is $5,000, and to-date there haven't been any charges laid. So, even with that sort of stick to enforce this, the experience has been that most businesses and most people are compliant."
Redman also noted that masks are no replacement for other public health guidelines like physical distancing, effectively warning against a false sense of security.
The bylaw will be removed September 30, 2020 unless extended by council.
Face coverings will be required in the following locations, with some exceptions:
- Buses, bus shelters, ION trains and ION platforms
- Stores and shopping malls
- Indoor areas of restaurants and bars, with the exception of patrons consuming food/drink
- Professional services such as counselling, personal care, funeral homes, repair and rental services
- Lobby areas of commercial buildings
- Hotels and motels, with the exception of rented rooms
- Indoor areas of fitness centres, gyms and recreational and sports facilities
- Indoor concert venues, theatres and cinemas
- Arcades and other indoor amusement facilities
- Museums, galleries, historic sites, etc.
- Places of worship
- Municipal buildings