Norfolk adopts face-coverings bylaw

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SIMCOE Norfolk County council has voted in favour of a bylaw requiring face coverings inside public settings.

Councillors voted in favour of the bylaw on Friday – the same day the municipality entered into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening strategy. The decision came after more than two hours of debate at a special meeting, following a lengthy debate on the issue earlier this week.

“I think it’s important that we, as a council, take a position on this issue,” said Coun. Amy Martin, who voted in favour of the bylaw. “It’s about educating the public, it’s about public health and it’s about keeping people safe.”

In passing the bylaw, Norfolk joins Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations of the Grand River as jurisdictions to pass mandatory face-covering or mask bylaws in recent weeks. Haldimand County is scheduled to discuss a mask bylaw on Monday.

Under Norfolk’s bylaw, all those in charge of an enclosed public space are required to adopt a face mask policy, post signage and train staff to use and wear face-coverings properly.


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The bylaw covers grocery stores, shops, malls, plazas, convenience stores, recreational facilities and gyms, theatres and personal service settings.

The bylaw exempts children, aged two or younger, and those aged three to five, who cannot be persuaded to wear a mask. Also exempt are people with underlying medical conditions (permitted to wear a face shield, instead) or who are unable to place or remove a mask without assistance.

Other exemptions include employees working in an area reserved solely for employee use and those employees who can maintain a two-metre distance from others or who work behind a physical barrier.

Proof of an exemption is not required.

Masks can be removed while eating, drinking or engaging in athletic activity.

While the bylaw came into effect Friday, business owners have until Aug. 3 to meet its requirements.

The bylaw remains in place until the first council meeting in October.

Coun. Chris Van Paassen voted against the bylaw, arguing that it puts the onus on already hard-hit business owners to make sure people wear masks.

“Nowhere in this bylaw does it say that Norfolk council is telling people to wear face masks.”

He said the municipalities is getting businesses “to do our dirty work for us.”

Coun. Tom Masschaele also voted against the bylaw.

In addition to Martin, other councillors to vote in favor were Kim Huffman, Ryan Taylor, Ian Rabbitts and Mike Columbus and Mayor Kristal Chopp.


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Coun. Roger Geysens did not attend Friday’s meeting.

Chopp said the bylaw is a good public health measure that will protect people.

But she expressed concern that there wasn’t much time for public consultation or for staff to develop a bylaw tailored for Norfolk’s needs.

In a later statement sent to the media, Chopp acknowledged that not everyone will agree with council’s decision.

“As a community, we have been faced with enormous challenges over the last number of months, and we have come together to meet those challenges,” she said.

“As more and more businesses start to reopen, it is critical that we all take the precautions necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, and avoid a second wave of the virus – as well as what would likely be a disastrous second economic shutdown.”

Prior to debating the issue Friday, councillors heard from members of the public and reviewed more than 10 letters on the topic.

Norfolk resident Amy Visser said wearing a mask should be a personal choice.

“If someone feels more comfortable wearing a mask based on their research and personal convictions that can be their personal choice,” she told councillors in a letter. “But let each individual decide for themselves.

“This is a health matter that is personal to everyone.”

Resident Marion Cober said entering Stage 3 is a critical time for Norfolk and making masks mandatory should be at the top priority for council.

Six Nations elected council voted Thursday to require residents wear face coverings in all indoor spaces.

“This decision was based on public health guidance locally, nationally and globally – to reduce the risk of the spread of this virus,” Lori Davis Hill, Six Nations health services director,  said in a statement Friday.

The measure on Six Nations is effective immediately and will remain in place until Aug. 30 when it will be reassessed.

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