Masks now mandatory on Saskatoon transit buses

Under the policy, city hall will concentrate on "educating and informing" the public while Saskatoon Transit staff will monitor and document compliance.

Darcy Pederson says he welcomes a new policy requiring everyone riding city buses to wear non-medical face masks — and that the drivers he represents will not be tasked with enforcing it.

“Operators not enforcing it is great as it will only cause conflict, and that’s the last thing we want,” the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 said Monday afternoon.

At the same time, it is “concerning” that operators could be dragged into conflicts with passengers if there is no other mechanism to enforce the new policy, he said.

“Someone needs to enforce the mandatory mask initiative or really there’s no point in calling it mandatory.”

A few Saskatoon city councillors have previously expressed similar fears, but they voted unanimously in favour of the proposal on Monday. It comes into force on all Saskatoon Transit buses on Tuesday.

Under the policy, city hall will concentrate on “educating and informing” the public while Saskatoon Transit staff will monitor and document compliance. Managers will make decisions in cases of “regular repetition” of people not wearing masks.

“The goal of this measure is to educate and support the users of Saskatoon Transit services, not to penalize them for occasionally not having a mask,” a city report states.

The only change to the policy introduced earlier this month came from Coun. Hilary Gough, who proposed that city hall continue to supply masks beyond the original two-week threshold if the $19,250 budget allows.

The policy, which recommends rather than requires masks in civic facilities such as leisure centres, is much less restrictive than bylaws that apply to all indoor public spaces introduced in multiple other Canadian jurisdictions.

However, council left the door open to further changes by approving Gough’s motion for city hall to report back regularly on the spread of COVID-19 in the city based on colour-coded “triggers” — green, yellow and red in order of increasing severity.

“I just want to make sure we’re not sleeping on the job,” Gough said after council heard the provincial government provides “a wealth of data” about the virus and its transmission but does not interpret it.

Coun. Mairin Loewen said regular updates on the situation in the city would be “really useful” for the community, a point echoed by Mayor Charlie Clark with a reference to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“I hope it can even serve as a motivator for us, collectively, to encourage people to help all together. Let’s stay in the green zone. The green zone is something popular in Saskatchewan,” he said.

“The more we can do that as we go into the fall, the better.”

Coun. Randy Donauer initially balked at the use of the word “trigger,” noting that any additional mask policies or bylaws would require council approval. Gough subsequently agreed to remove the term.

Donauer also suggested he preferred to follow the guidance of provincial government officials on mask use.

“My intent is not that any movement within these triggers would necessarily trigger any type of change in policy, in intervention, in health measures … but that it is a tool for us to visualize and understand where we are at,” she said.

Council made its decision as a surge in new COVID-19 cases over the summer slows to a trickle. The government reported four new cases on Monday, bringing the total number of active cases to 34, of which 11 are in the Saskatoon region.

Regina city council is eyeing a broader policy which would require masks in all indoor public spaces, similar to policies introduced in Quebec and Nova Scotia and several municipalities, including Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton.

On Monday, Regina’s elected leaders tabled a motion asking the city’s administrators to report back on the cost, enforcement and other implications of such a policy, which would likely take the form of a bylaw.

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