LONDON, ONT. -- City council has given municipal bylaw enforcement officers the ability to enforce face covering in enclosed public spaces under most circumstances.

A day after debating the merits of a mandatory mask bylaw to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, council officially approved (12-1) a bylaw with rules virtually identical to the medical officer of health’s ‘instruction’ issued last week.

The only amendment, to exempt religious leaders and worshipers during ceremonies that require an uncovered face and mouth.

The additional exemption was endorsed by Medical Officer Of Health Dr. Chris Mackie prior to the meeting.

Councillor Michael Van Holst cast the only vote against the mandatory mask bylaw, suggesting that it was a threat to personal freedoms.

“We may have unintentionally moved towards the totalitarian views of the World Health Organization,” argued Van Holst.

But other councillors said given the additional risks posed by entering Stage 3 of the provincial reopening, indoor mask rules are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“This is about the health and best interests of the broader community,” adds Mayor Ed Holder. “When I wear a mask, it’s to protect you. You wear one to protect me.”

Approval of the bylaw gives municipal law enforcement officers the ability to enforce mask-wearing rules.

City staff say they will encourage compliance through education. Penalties ranging between $500 and $100,000 will be for non-compliance ‘hotspots’ and repeat offenders.

Exemptions to the face-covering by-law include:

  • children under 12
  • people with medical conditions
  • workers in non-public employment areas

Bylaw officers may not ask someone to provide proof of a medical condition.