Sackville Town Council discusses mandatory mask-wearing in public

Councillor Allison Butcher at a previous council meeting

Sackville Town Council is considering asking New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health to require people to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The idea for sending that formal request to Dr. Jennifer Russell came after a majority of councillors spoke against passing a municipal bylaw requiring people to wear masks.

Councillor Allison Butcher originally proposed a bylaw even though she acknowledged it would be difficult to pass one anytime soon.

“I had to go to Nova Scotia yesterday and I stopped at a store and it was so refreshing to see that the mask compliance was close to a hundred percent,” Butcher told council, referring to the requirement in Nova Scotia that people wear masks in most indoor public places.

“I would feel a lot more comfortable in stores if people who chose not to wear a mask or couldn’t wear a mask for a medical reason, would remember to socially distance,” Butcher added.

“It feels like oftentimes, people who are not wearing a mask are also not practising social distancing.”

She noted that university students will be returning soon and with schools reopening in the fall, it’s important to be on guard.

“I have a daughter with some underlying health concerns,” Butcher said. “I’m trying not to be afraid of COVID, but part of being a mother is unfortunately thinking about the worst-case scenarios.”

Bylaw hard to enforce

CAO Jamie Burke said that while municipalities have the authority to pass bylaws to protect public health and safety, the town’s lawyer isn’t sure if Sackville has the power to make wearing masks mandatory.

Burke added that, in any case, enforcing such a bylaw would be difficult since the town has only one enforcement officer.

“I personally would expect his phone to be ringing off the hook especially after the students arrive after the long weekend in September,” Burke said, adding that it could take weeks or months to draft and pass such a bylaw.

Mayor John Higham at an earlier council meeting

After several councillors agreed a bylaw would be hard to enforce, Mayor Higham summed up the 20-minute discussion by suggesting that town council send a letter to the medical officer of health calling on New Brunswick to harmonize its mask-wearing rules with the ones in Nova Scotia.

He said the town’s letter could include a request for any mask-related “education and communication tools” that the medical officer might be able to provide.

Higham said the town could also set an example by requiring masks in the public spaces of its own buildings and by working with local businesses to ensure they’re following provincial rules requiring people to wear masks wherever social distancing isn’t possible.

“The fifth thing,” Higham said, “is for the town to consider — because we’ve been looking for ways to help local businesses — to consider setting aside a little bit of budget for an ability to purchase some of those tools, communication methods, etc.”

No immediate return to council chambers

Sackville councillors also spent nearly 30 minutes last night discussing whether they should start holding meetings again in the council chambers instead of continuing with their “virtual” online ones.

All but Councillor Shawn Mesheau opposed returning to face-to-face meetings at town hall.

Councillor Bill Evans reads statement at an earlier council meeting

Councillor Bill Evans read a nine minute statement that seemed to summarize arguments made by the majority of his council colleagues.

“We are in a pandemic, which means that the virus and the disease are everywhere around the world, millions have been affected and hundreds of thousands have died,” Evans said.

He added that even though Sackville seems to be free of COVID-19 at the moment, an outbreak could happen at any time and so it’s important to avoid unnecessary contact.

“There is no good reason to believe that the pandemic is almost over,” Evans said. “By looking south of the border, we can see what our future could easily look like if we carelessly let down our guard.”

He compared precautions against COVID-19 to buying fire insurance or wearing seat belts even though, in his case, he has never had a fire or been involved in a serious car crash.

“I am going to continue paying for fire insurance, continue wearing my seat belt and I think that we should continue with virtual meetings,” Evans concluded.

Learning to live with the virus

Councillor Mesheau said that before making his statement favouring a return to the council chambers, he wanted to hear from CAO Burke on staff planning for such a return.

Burke said staff had determined that meetings could be held in the chamber with proper social distancing for both members of council and staff.

“We feel that we can do that safely,” he added. “We’re very fortunate to have the space here. We have a nice, big open chamber, it’s easy circulation, so it is certainly doable to get back [to] in-person meetings.”

Burke said members of staff haven’t worked out the rules yet that would govern how members of the public could attend face-to-face council meetings.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau at an earlier meeting

For his part, Mesheau argued that it’s time to start the process of living with the pandemic.

“This is not going away. Even after a vaccination, it won’t be gone. It will still be amongst us and the risks will still be there,” he said.

Mesheau said he deals with the reality of the pandemic every day in his job stocking shelves at Sackville’s downtown supermarket.

“I understand people’s concerns. I don’t live in fear of COVID-19. I’ve learned to live with it,” he said.

When will the time come that we say ‘now is the time’ [to return to in-person meetings.]?” he asked.

“I think personally that we should try this, see if it works and see what comes from it.”

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8 Responses to Sackville Town Council discusses mandatory mask-wearing in public

  1. Gordon Heffler says:

    As a resident of Nova Scotia I believe that our province was tardy in getting the mask wearing rule in place (inside in public places) and I would have desired to see it come about earlier but that is history now and thank goodness that it is the rule now. It would be very wise to speed New Brunswick along the same path at least requiring masks for all when inside in any public place. Having said that, the enforcement issue is pretty simple…anyone who is healthy (no underlying condition precluding wearing a mask of any type) will be judged by their fellow public as “Smart” wear your mask to protect me as well as yourself. Conversely anyone who without a health reason will not wear a mask shall be judged as “Stupid”….you do not care about me or yourself! With that premise enforcement is by simple shaming of those who willfully will not comply…no law enforcement will be necessary…I have seen it work well right here in my building of over 200 units where it took a few days of nasty “looks” to bring the dissenters to compliance. Look people if we can all “get with the program” we can beat this nasty monster by protecting ourselves as well as others and making the hard work of first line workers worth the results that they are achieving. Think about it..rule or no rule a small inconvenience will see us ALL thru this properly. For those that feel they want to not mask up then they alone will sink our ship as well as their own! Please note that research now shows a two digit percentage of those that recover from this virus are exhibiting what looks to be long term or permanent damage to their brain function! So if you are “stupid” enough to not wear a mask and contract this thing then you may end up permanently stupid after and if you recover from it…food for thought!

  2. Jamie Harper says:

    Calling people “stupid” and shaming them is nothing more than another form of bullying.

    • Kelly Alder says:

      Yes i agree 100% with your statement Jamie. I wear a mask when required and when I feel others aren’t adhering to distancing and that’s the way it should stay.

  3. Kathy Hamer says:

    With all due respect to Councillor Mesheau, ALL of us are living with COVID. I would suggest that many of us – elderly, immunocompromised, asthma sufferers, and others – are advocating precautions to avoid dying with COVID. Living with COVID doesn’t mean living without caution, both for ourselves and for others. It is very disconcerting to find so many people grocery shopping without masks, often ignoring distancing and even hand sanitizers – even at the hour reserved for seniors and other vulnerable people. Front-line employees (check-out staff, for instance) are among the vulnerable, given the number of people they serve every day. They should not have to endure the proximity of unmasked customers. As for enforcing, I think it could easily be demonstrated that most people are fairly cooperative if reminded – social pressure does have an impact. What seems lacking is any real authority for owners and managers of these businesses to refuse to admit those not wearing masks, for the cases where people either forget or choose not to follow the recommended protocols.

    I write as the mother of a daughter who, along with her partner, did contract COVID in the US, where they live and work. They did not require hospitalization, but both report lingering after-effects even five months after they tested positive. They are NOT in the demographic normally considered at risk. In other words, COVID is nothing to ignore; and it can strike anyone, anywhere, any time. All we can do is spare minimal thought for the safety of others, and for ourselves. We don’t need to live in fear, but we should be much more mindful of caution.

  4. Gordon Heffler says:

    I call it like I see it…smart is intelligent, stupid is not intelligent, so use whatever adjective you desire but seems like you are looking for anyone with a real opinion to be called out as a bully. This forum is to share opinions and you are welcome to yours and, by the way, I am welcome to mine! So in summation: people who will comply and wear a mask, if able are intelligent (my opinion) and people who will not comply are non-intelligent.(also my opinion) This has nothing to do with bullying although you seem very quick (maybe too quick) to grab that judgement! the use of shaming by using non-verbal cues is not defined as bullying. (Check the dictionary!) On top of that I am telling it like it actually is here where the mask is a requirement so my statements are based on experienced fact. Judgement on intelligence adjectives based on actions in the real world should keep the bullies from picking on anyone with a counter-minded opinion both here and in real life hopefully,

  5. Will says:

    A really scary phenomenon is happening as noted in above comments, with people feeling entitled to confront other people about not wearing a mask. “The science is settled” they say without understanding how the scientific process works. The bullying and social shaming has now become acceptable. Do we bully overweight people in public (there are many) because they are unhealthy and increasing costs and delays in the health care system? Suddenly Maritimers are all health conscious. Likely this would be done by entitled authoritarian leftists as well if someone were to say wear a MAGA hat or god forbid put up a PPC sign (as evidenced during the last campaign). First the doctors said not to wear a mask, covid didn’t spread from human to human (WHO), travel bans were racist and now some are suggesting we need to wear masks but of course now they are 100% sure that is correct. Wearing a mask can also be seen as being a loyal sheep not necessarily intelligent… but it feels good to feel superior – this together with climate change has become a religious cult of sorts. Try to have more of an open mind, look at countries that didn’t lockdown or enforce masks and are still doing fine.

  6. Les Hicks says:

    Responding to your points one by one :

    – The scientific consensus re the effectiveness of mask use in helping to prevent the spread of COVID 19 has been developing with knowledge gained since the start of the pandemic, but the current consensus amongst medical professionals (note that doesn’t include Donald Trump or his favourite doctor who blames demons and aliens for our woes) is that the use of masks in combination with social distancing and hygiene is an effective strategy in fighting this pandemic. Check out the information provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges, an organization that understands how the scientific process works. :

    – We don’t as a society ‘bully’ overweight people because their weight issues only affect the quality of their own lives. The difference between that scenario and one in which people refuse to follow the scientific evidence and wear masks, is that those people are not only risking their own lives, but the lives of the others.

    – What the hell does this situation have to do with ‘authoritarian leftists’? We are talking about a public health issue that potentially effects everyone.

    – You complain about ‘bullying and social shaming’ and then you call people who are following the guidance of the professional medical community ‘sheep’. A bit of a double standard, wouldn’t you say? Does it not make sense for a person to wear a mask, which doesn’t adversely affect the wearer’s health, but which could possibly prevent the spread of the virus to others if the wearer is unknowingly infected?

    – It’s interesting to note that you group people who follow the COVID 19 guidelines provided by health professionals in with those who believe the vast majority of climate scientists who study the effects of human induced global warming in peer reviewed scientific journals and refer to them as ‘religious cults’. Where do you obtain the expert advice that you follow regarding these issues? Fox News? Ezra Levant? The Donald himself or his witch doctor?

    – I would say that the people suffering from a lack of open minds are those who ignore the peer reviewed scientific evidence and rely on unsubstantiated claims for their decision making, such as Trump’s continued unfounded claims about the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine.

    – What countries are you referring to that ‘didn’t lockdown or enforce masks and are still doing fine’? The USA? Sweden? Hasn’t worked out too well for them so far.

    • Gordon Heffler says:

      Thank you so much Les for expressing exactly what I have tried saying earlier but without much success. Your reply gives me hope that there are some people participating in discussing these kinds of issues that actually think things through rather than dismissing anyone who does not see things in a mis-guided manner as they themselves, like some of the “ready to disagree” comments that appear. My thoughts on this now are to relegate those “non believers” who refuse to work toward the greater good of society at large (here and throughout in Canada) by simply wearing a mask if possible to some facebook complainer forum rather than a column like this that is constantly working toward the improvement of conditions for the local area.!

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