By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Two amendments to Chatham-Kent’s mask bylaw failed at Monday night’s council meeting.
Mandatory physical distancing and the mandatory provision of hand sanitizer for businesses will not be written into Chatham-Kent law.
The motion failed after councillors were split on the issue with a 50-50 vote.
Council passed a bylaw requiring masks to be worn in indoor public spaces earlier in August, with more potential amendments to be brought forward in consultation with Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health, Dr. David Colby.
“We brought our mask bylaw forward in the summertime recognizing the first two defences against COVID-19 are hand sanitizing and social distancing. (The amendment) enhances our diligence in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said West Kent Coun. Melissa Harrigan.
During deputations, some residents were concerned that individuals with special needs would be fined for seeking help in a business.
David Taylor, manager of Legal Services, clarified that a visually impaired person, or residents with other special needs, would not have a breach of bylaw if they were being guided by an individual in close proximity. Additionally all bylaws must be read in the context of the Human Rights Code, which requires accommodation for persons with disabilities.
Any businesses that are exempt from physical distancing under provincial guidelines (ex. hairdressers, masseuse, dentists) would have been exempt from the municipal bylaw.
“I think I really believe we’re getting carried away with this bylaw. Chatham-Kent’s pretty much COVID free now. And we’re taking this bylaw to a new extreme,” East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault said.
READ MORE: Masks now mandatory for Chatham-Kent
Masks must continue to be worn while seated at church or other religious gatherings.
Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy also brought an amendment forward stating that individuals can remove masks once seated if they can maintain a two meter distance from every other person at the ceremony who’s not a person in their household.
The amendment was brought in response to a public outcry from community members who attend religious services.
North Kent Coun. Joe Faas then entered a friendly amendment to Bondy’s motion stating that churches be exempt from masks except during “any singing”.
The motion failed with 61 per cent of councillors choosing to maintain the current standards.
“I attend a church service regularly. Since the opening up of church services, weeks ago, I can say from where I attend, the protocols are very very well maintained. It’s a very safe environment. If anything they’re a little over the top with safety,” Bondy said.
He also likened his ademendent to restaurant rules which allow customers to remove masks while they are seated at their tables.
The original recommendations to council only included mask removal for religious rituals (ex. taking communion or singing).
“When we look at the actual practice that tends to happen in most religious venues, things like singing, things like whether we’re speaking loudly. Those kinds of activities are certainly increased in a faith based setting and masks are really there to protect respiratory droplets of those wearing them,” April Rietdyk, general manager of community human services, said when explaining to councillors why staff did not recommend masks be removed when seated.
Rietdyk added that recent outbreaks were linked to people attending church services and faith based facility services.
“I think the mask bylaw is something… that it is beneficial only when universally applied. And it’s important that people are able to feel safe wherever they go,” said Harrigan who was against the amendment.
“It’s our responsibility to maintain that civic duty. And I think that civic duty is even more important to maintain it in our community groups with those who we care about and are connected to which includes religious spaces.”
Chatham Coun. Karen Kirkwood-Whyte who also attends church every week said she conceded that it was unpleasant to wear masks in church but it was necessary to keep everyone safe especially with the worry of a second wave. She added that dozens of local public health units across Ontario require masks while singing.
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