At a special meeting of council, Sylvan Lake Town Council asked staff to bring a face covering bylaw back before the next scheduled meeting.
Council met on Nov. 25 to discuss if they wanted to see a potential face mask bylaw come forward, the merits and shortcomings of a potential bylaw, and enforcement of a bylaw.
The motion, made by Councillor Graham Parsons, was to “direct administration to draft a Face Coverings Bylaw that mandates that face coverings must be worn in all indoor Town-owned and operated facilities, and to develop a program that allows for private businesses to register and receive bylaw enforcement through the Municipal Enforcement officers.”
The motion was carried with a six to one vote. Councillor Tim Mearns voted against having a bylaw brought forward for consideration.
“I was elected by my community, some I know, some that I don’t… Those that I have spoken to have implored me not to support a mask bylaw in anyway,” Mearns said.
He continued to stay there have been very few businesses who have mandated the use of masks in their businesses. Everyone has the right to choose whether or not they want to wear a mask, same as businesses have the right and ability to put a mandate of their own in place, he said.
“The last thing I want to do is limit people with another bylaw,” said Mearns.
Councillor Jas Payne is one of the councillors who was in favour of a bylaw being brought forward for consideration.
According to Payne, Town Council needs to do more to protect the residents of Sylvan Lake in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have done very little up until this point to stand up and do the hard thing,” said Payne.
“We can’t count on the Province to do what needs to be done. We have to do what we can to protect our citizens.”
Council also discussed the matter of enforcement when it comes to a potential mask bylaw. The concern was Sylvan Lake does not have the man power to enforce a sweeping bylaw which requires face covering to be worn in all publicly accessible indoor areas of town.
Town councillors looked for clarification regarding how businesses would benefit from a mask bylaw if one was put into place.
Ron Lebsack, director of community services and emergency management at Town, said without a bylaw, businesses have to call the RCMP to have complaints dealt with.
“Peace officers are not able to enforce trespassing at anytime without a municipal bylaw in place,” he said.
Lebsack says the recent announcement from the Province to give peace officers more power to respond to COVID concerns is specific to the mandates in place by the province.
As masks are not required province-wide, a peace officer would not be able to respond to a complaint from a local business-owner about a customer refusing to wear a mask despite their own rules being put into place.
Mayor Sean McIntyre said he is favour of an approach that helps give business owners some weight behind their decisions.
“I have had a number of people reach out to me who work in places where masks are required, but they aren’t being taken seriously because there is no bylaw to enforce it,” McIntyre said.
“We can provide help to these businesses.”
The motion passed by council Wednesday night would see a bylaw come back for approval which would require face coverings being required in town-owned and operated facilities such as the Municipal Government Building and the NexSource Centre, along with a program to give support to businesses who wish to see masks worn in their businesses.
Councillor Megan Hanson voted in favour of the motion, with some stipulations.
“I would like to see this as two separate motions when it comes back… I am in favour of helping and supporting our businesses, but don’t really like the idea of forcing masks in places where residents won’t really be, or where they won’t be wearing them for long, like at the NexSurce Centre,” she said.
Council asked that the bylaw be expedited, to come back before their next regular meeting, scheduled for Dec. 14.
Lebsack says the bylaw that will come forward will be different from those seen in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, and will take some time to create.