Protesters stage fake mask-burning in support of city staff required to wear them
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/03/2022 (437 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Several dozen protesters pretended to burn face masks outside city hall Thursday, demanding an end to the civic administration’s mandate requiring employees to continue wearing them.
“We’re concerned… (employees) are being discriminated (against) by having to continually wear masks when the mandates in Manitoba have been dropped,” said Karl Krebs, a member of Things That Matter, one of the two groups — along STANDING 4 UNITY — that organized the demonstration attended by about 50 people.
Protesters held signs bearing the messages “Bowman against liberties” and “Mandate freedom” while a “Make Canada great again” placard sat behind the speaker’s podium.
Krebs said it’s unfair to force city staff to wear masks now that the provincewide indoor mask mandate, along with all other public-health orders, expired Monday night.
Because a request for a fire permit to burn masks was denied, the group simulated the act, lining face coverings around the rim of a garbage can equipped with a fog machine.
One participant said he didn’t believe any of the affected staff were at the event and claimed some told him they’re afraid to say anything.
“People are afraid to speak out, they’re afraid of losing their jobs.… This is why we’re here today, is to fight on their behalf,” said Donald Bouchard.
Public health officials enforced mask mandates for months, deeming facial coverings an effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Two union leaders say they’ve received some complaints about the mask requirement, but overall employees seem to be divided.
“Some of our members want to continue with the mask mandate, some would rather have it as a voluntary thing,” said Romeo Ignacio, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg Transit drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers.
Ignacio said the union isn’t calling for the mandate to end, particularly since some drivers would feel safer if it still applied to the public, as well. He is urging the city to relax some standards for staff, such as allowing bus drivers to choose whether to cover their faces while they are seated at the wheel, behind safety shields.
Three union members who were working on Transit equipment refused to wear masks Tuesday and opted to go home without pay. He said no further incidents have been reported.
Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, said his members are also divided, and he raised the issue of inconsistency for people who work around others now free to go maskless.
“When you’ve got to work around a bunch of people that are not wearing masks, that makes no sense. There’s no rationale behind what they’re doing. I think the city does need to pick a lane. It’s raising a lot of concern amongst our members,” said Delbridge.
Mayor Brian Bowman recently attempted to extend the mandate for elected officials but his motion was defeated.
Research during the pandemic has made clear that masks are a simple and effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“I know the rules have changed at the provincial level,” Bowman said. “I don’t think COVID is done with us or cares what the rules are. It’s a virus. So I’m going to continue to wear a mask in indoor spaces and would encourage others to do the same.”
The mayor said he doesn’t have authority over the mandate for city staff, which falls to the chief administrative officer, but he supports the decision.
And he’s concerned lifting the provincewide mandate could spark disputes.
“The lack of provincial public-health orders now has resulted in potential conflict provincewide for businesses and organizations that choose to require masks for, not only their staff, but also the public,” he said.
In an email, city spokesperson Tamara Forlanski said mask use continues to be encouraged to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the requirement “will be maintained for the foreseeable future.”
Forlanski said the city would prefer to keep a mandatory mask requirement for the public as well, but that wouldn’t be feasible to enforce. She said a “very small” number of employees have decided not to comply with the requirement, and the city is working with its unions to address the situation.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.