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'An error on my part': Pallister forgoes face mask at Toronto airport

The Free Press has made this story available free of charge so everyone can access trusted information on the coronavirus.

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On his way home from a business trip Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister flouted COVID-19 rules at the country's largest airport that require face masks be worn inside the terminal at all times.

Several photos obtained by the Free Press from two different bystanders show Pallister speaking with federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Neither are wearing face masks, a coronavirus pandemic measure mandatory at Pearson since June 1.

HANDOUT / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, left, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer are shown not wearing masks at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday.</p>

HANDOUT / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, left, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer are shown not wearing masks at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday.

In one photo, Pallister is seen leaning in close to Scheer as he speaks. In another, he is shown seated close to another man who is also mask-less.

Pallister was en route to Winnipeg after spending close to a week in the nation's capital. He left for Ottawa on Canada Day.

Scheer spotted with no mask in airport

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Conservative leader Andrew Scheer makes his way to the West Block on Parliament Hill amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Thursday, June 18, 2020. Scheer was spotted Tuesday in a Toronto airport lounge not wearing a mandatory mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer makes his way to the West Block on Parliament Hill amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Thursday, June 18, 2020. Scheer was spotted Tuesday in a Toronto airport lounge not wearing a mandatory mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Posted: 07/07/2020 6:11 PM

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister were spotted Tuesday in a Toronto airport lounge not wearing mandatory masks to curb COVID-19.

Two separate photos of the bare-faced leaders sitting comfortably in a waiting area circulated online.

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While in Ottawa, he was to meet with representatives from the Parliamentary Budget Office, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Business Council of Canada, Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, and Conference Board of Canada, his staff said earlier this week.

The premier arrived at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg later Tuesday wearing a face mask, but would not respond to Free Press questions about the Toronto images.

In a statement issued by his office, Pallister said: "I lifted my mask to join some friends in conversation at the Toronto airport this afternoon. It was an error on my part, it won’t happen again."

Asked for comment, Scheer's acting director of communications, Kelsie Chiasson, said the federal Tory leader wore a face mask while travelling to Ottawa on Tuesday.

"He removed it to make a phone call. This picture must have been taken before he put it back on," Chiasson said in an email after viewing one of the photos.

One bystander who shared photos of Pallister and Scheer with the Free Press said the two men were observed speaking for several minutes without wearing masks.

The bystander, who asked not to be identified, recognized Scheer but was unaware at the time the person the Conservative leader was speaking to was the premier of Manitoba.

"He wasn't wearing it for like a good 10 to 15 minutes, and then he did get up to take a phone call and then sat back down," the witness said of Scheer. "But the whole time, it (the mask) was in his hand."

The bystander didn't recall seeing Pallister wearing a face mask at all during that time.

Before leaving on his trip to the nation's capital, Pallister told reporters he would not have to self-isolate upon his return to Winnipeg because he had an exemption as premier.

Given the higher incidence of COVID-19 in the Toronto area, questions may now be raised as to whether the premier should self-isolate.

Pearson International, sitting on City of Mississauga and Toronto borough of Etobicoke land, requires passengers and airport employees to wear masks or face coverings "at all times."

The premier arrived at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg later Tuesday wearing a face mask, but would not respond to Free Press questions about the Toronto images.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The premier arrived at James Armstrong Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg later Tuesday wearing a face mask, but would not respond to Free Press questions about the Toronto images.

The airport says physical distancing of two metres is a must "whenever possible."

Exceptions to the face mask policy are made for passengers under the age of two, those who have trouble breathing, and those who are dining at food and beverage locations.

The Manitoba NDP's health critic, Uzoma Asagwara, said in a statement: "It's disappointing the premier doesn't think he has to follow the rules that apply to everybody else and keep people safe. When citizens across the country continue to make sacrifices to fight the spread of this virus, it’s shameful the premier doesn’t follow the rules that govern the rest of us."

— with files from Julia-Simone Rutgers

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"

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Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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