By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Mayor Ken Hewitt spoke out publicly during last week’s Council session, revealing his stance on the controversial issue of municipalities issuing mandatory mask use rules when using public spaces.
“I’ve had several residents reach out and ask why we aren’t passing a bylaw to force businesses and residents to establish a mask bylaw,” said Hewitt. “I think the comment that I’ll make publicly is that we are looking for direction from the Board of Health through the Medical Officer of Health (MOH). If the MOH decides that we as a County should be establishing such a bylaw, then we will take that under direction and move forward from there.”
While the Mayor will take advice from medical officials seriously, his personal preference would be to leave the issue in the hands of the public. He mentioned how different municipalities have been struggling with the issue as well, and that there is lack of a uniform consensus at this time: “Some have established a bylaw, some haven’t, some are looking. We have been talking about bylaws and issues here for the last number of weeks.”
“The challenge of issuing a bylaw to manage the public, in my opinion, is difficult to say the very least in the sense of ‘how do you enforce that’ and ‘how do you manage the public when somebody chooses to not wear a mask because they have the prerogative and right to not want to do that?’”
One of the mayor’s concerns are instances where a member of the public refuses to wear their mask leading to frustration and anger.
He pointed towards the public trails that have reopened recently as an example: “We’ve heard through this process of trying to manage the public in areas where they didn’t want to be managed, such as the trails and different public spaces. Now we have them open and people are taking precautions and are managing themselves.”
Despite his concerns over a mandatory policy, Hewitt made sure to acknowledge that he believes all members of the public should wear a mask out of respect when entering a public business, to protect both themselves and those around them.
“I don’t think that we as a government need to police that, I think that people should have the common sense to be able to make those decisions in a respectful way,” summed up Hewitt.
Councillors John Metcalfe and Bernie Corbett both agree with the mayor.
“I personally wear a mask when I enter a business. It sets an example for people to follow, as well as protecting myself,” said Metcalfe. “I would encourage the residents in Ward 2 to do whatever it takes to defeat this virus.”
Metcalfe believes the issue would be better handled at the provincial level: “If it is mandated from the Province, it would take the pressure off of the municipality. What I mean by that is everyone in the province then would be interpreting the mandate the same, rather than having every municipality in the province come up with their own policy. For those that travel into numerous municipalities on a daily basis, one rule would apply to all in the province.”
Corbett said much the same: “I do believe that that direction should come from (Ontario’s Chief) Medical Officer of Health…. So far there is no vaccination and the virus is very contagious. Young people may be asymptomatic and show no signs of infection. However, they may pass it on to those more vulnerable. At present the theory I subscribe to is social distance and where you cannot, wear a mask and follow the ever-changing guidelines of the MOH.”
The Haldimand Press extended the opportunity to comment on this issue to all six Haldimand County councillors, but did not receive any further responses as of press time.