By Chris Pickup

Haldimand council passed a mask bylaw Monday morning, an issue they had long been reluctant to address. They felt it should have been done under the jurisdiction of the health department or the province.

In the absence of either stepping up, Haldimand was backed into a corner as the lone holdout among the surrounding municipalities including Six Nations, who have all passed mask bylaws.

Continuing to do nothing could have resulted in people coming into Haldimand to escape their own bylaws, leaving residents unprotected.

Councillor Tony Dalimonte compared the issue to that of the smoking bylaw back in the day that ended up as a mishmash of different rules in different municipalities.

Haldimand’s mask bylaw imposes temporary regulations regarding the wearing of face coverings within enclosed public spaces in Haldimand County. It comes into force August 1, and will remain in place until November 2, pending amendments or repeal.

Violations may be reported to the COVID-19 enforcement hotline at 519-428-8019.

Face coverings run the gamut of cloth non-medical masks, medical masks or bandanas, scarf or cloth to filter respiratory droplets. It must securely cover the nose, mouth and chin without gapping.

The bylaw relies a lot on trust. It states “It is believed the existence of a bylaw-requirement will help to educate the public on the importance of a properly worn face covering and encourage voluntary compliance.

That said, there are several personal exemptions allowed, which do not allow business operators to demand proof, nor should operators have to act as enforcers.

The bylaw divides enclosed public spaces into two categories.

Category 1 businesses must deny entry to the public areas of their premises to persons who are not wearing a face covering.

These are businesses that primarily sell food such as grocery stores; convenience stores and bakeries; shopping malls; financial institutions; pharmacies; retail businesses with a gross floor area of more than 465 sq.m; and common areas of hotels and other short term accommodations. This does not apply to common areas of apartment buildings and condos.

Operators must post clearly visible signage at every public entrance to the premises reading: “All persons entering or remaining in these premises shall wear a mask or a face covering which covers the nose, mouth and chin, as required under Haldimand County Bylaw No. 2191/20“

Category 2 businesses require visitors to maintain 6 feet social distancing unless the public space is too small, in which case a face covering is required.

These are businesses such as eateries; places of worship; cultural venues, bingo halls, banquet halls, community centres, entertainment venues; indoor sports and recreational facilities, dance studios, etc.; real estate open houses and facilities.

Operators must post clearly visible signage at every public entrance to the premises reading: “All persons entering or remaining in these premises shall maintain a physical distance of minimum 2 metres (6 feet) from other customers and staff. Where such distance cannot be achieved, you are required to wear a mask or a face covering which covers the nose, mouth and chin, as required under Haldimand County Bylaw No. 2191/20“

Exempted: children’s facilities including daycares, day camps, schools and post secondary institutions; private and public transportation; hospitals, independent health facilities and offices of regulated health professionals; buildings and services owned or operated by provincial or federal governments.

Personal exemptions: children chronologically or developmentally under 10 years of age; persons with medical conditions inhibiting their ability to wear a face covering; those unable to apply or remove a mask without assistance; persons who have protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code which would prevent them from wearing a mask; persons assisting another person with a hearing disability; any paramedic, firefighter or police officer acting in the course of their duties. An operator shall not require anyone under these exemptions to provide proof.

“This has been, and continues to be, a very polarizing issue. It would have been preferable for this decision to come from the Province or local Board of Health, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case,” says Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt.

“That being said, we have a duty to protect the community, especially given the influx of visitors coming to the area. We’ve taken a lot of steps over the past few months to ensure our numbers remain low, and we certainly don’t want to lose that momentum and traction.

“The approved face covering by-law – which takes into account feedback received from residents and businesses – is an added layer of defense in our battle with the virus,” Hewitt added.