Can you be fined for failing to wear a face covering in London, Ont.?

A mandatory mask bylaw passed by city councillors in London, Ont., Tuesday night comes with some hefty penalties for those flouting the new rules, but it seems unlikely that the city will be issuing fines any time soon.

The bylaw requires anyone entering any public establishment to wear a face mask or face covering — which covers the nose, mouth and chin — as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The mandatory mask bylaw excludes children under 12 years of age, as well as people with medical conditions or challenges which inhibit their ability to wear a face-covering. Those unable to apply or remove a face covering on their own are also exempt from the new rule.

Additionally, council added an exemption to allow “celebrants and attendees at religious services (such as) priests, (to) remove their masks for the purposes of reading prayers (and) rituals that require an uncovered mouth to fully observe the requirements of the ceremony. Physical distancing must be maintained.”

Read more: Coronavirus: London, Ont., councillors enact mask bylaw, exclude certain religious ceremonies

While the bylaw could see individuals facing a $500 fine for infractions, the head of the city’s bylaw department says the city first needs approval to issue fines.

“We also will be applying to a senior regional judge for a fine of $500, that was the direction. It’ll take some time to get a response back but they are responding rather quickly,” said Orest Katolyk.

As well, Katolyk says that in an effort to respect medical privacy, bylaw officers will not require proof of exemption.

“For example, if somebody has a pre-existing medical condition that they can’t wear a mask, such as asthma or other similar medical issue, we will highly respect their medical privacy and will not be questioning on that medical condition.”

Katolyk stressed that London is not the only municipality with a face-covering bylaw.

“We have been communicating with other municipalities that have a very similar temporary bylaw because of COVID-19. The vast majority of municipalities are focusing on education upfront,” he said.

“We really hope that we never have to get into a situation where we have to issue a fine because what we’re finding out in the field is that there’s very high compliance.”

Read more: Coronavirus: How London, Ont., businesses feel about mask enforcement

Starting Thursday, Katolyk says bylaw officers will go to establishments to talk to operators about the signage that’s required. The city has also made the signs available for download on its website.

“We will be also speaking with the public and advising them on this temporary bylaw. We are going to be going to small retailers, to the large malls over in the next while and focusing on education.”

Katolyk also referenced the bylaw department’s approach to a provincial directive in late March that saw the closure of non-essential businesses and playground structures.

“We issued over 1,200 warnings and only 54 charges. That indicates to us, to city council, there’s very high compliance in London and that’s actually shown on a daily basis when Dr. (Chris) Mackie reports out new cases of COVID-19.”

Read more: Coronavirus: 2 new cases, 2 recoveries in London-Middlesex; 1 case reported in Elgin-Oxford

Over the past week, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has reported a total of nine people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including no new cases this past Monday, one case reported Tuesday, and two on Wednesday.

In addition to the bylaw, an instruction mandating masks issued by medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie with the Middlesex-London Health Unit is also in effect, as is an order previously issued specific to public transit and commercial vehicles as well as personal care service establishments.

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