Update, Aug, 13, 2020: Five days after introducing the cards, Edmonton will stop handing them out because people who needed an exemption has "been able to obtain a card up to this point," said city staff in a news release. While Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he has "some concerns/questions with the exemption cards," the 3,900 cards handed out remain valid.
After introducing a bylaw that forces citizens to wear masks indoors in public spaces, the City of Edmonton is now offering “mask exemption cards.”
The orange cards, which have been handed out at several locations across the city since last weekend, say, “I cannot wear a mask or a face covering” and “Please give me 2 metres of space.”
While the cards are intended only for those who fall into the exemption categories—including people who can’t put a mask on themselves, and people who can’t wear it for physical or mental health reasons—reports show they’re being handed out like candy to whomever wants one.
These aren’t the first “mask exemption cards” seen in Canada, but they are seemingly the first handed out by officials in a major Canadian city and not by conspiracy theorists. Jon Dziadyk, an Edmonton city councillor, said that the mask exemption policy was a move to reduce tensions after Edmonton’s mandatory mask law came into effect on August 1.
“Tensions are high and this mandatory mask bylaw is not meant to increase those tensions,” tweeted Dziadyk. “To alleviate some of the stress surrounding being unable to wear a mask, the City of Edmonton will provide you with an official mask exemption card.”
Dziadyk told the CBC the mask exemptions are completely on “the honour system.” An Edmonton physician told the CBC the mask exemptions make the bylaw pretty much “useless.”
Some anti-maskers are already happily sharing the locations of community centres within their circles and revelling about how you can attain a card with no questions asked.
Masks, and the legal recruitment to wear them, have become a cornerstone of COVID-19 conspiracies, many focusing on the idea that masks are bad for you or are a way of the government to control the people. Rallies focused on pandemic conspiracies have been occurring across Canada and the United States in recent weeks and all feature an element of anti-mask sentiment.
In June, anti-maskers started selling Canadian-wide mask exemption cards similar to the Edmonton cards. The cards featured the Health Canada logo, forcing multiple public health agencies to denounce them.
The far-right YouTube channel Rebel Media is also offering non-official “mask exemption cards” on its website, even blasting out an email to subscribers that starts with the line “The pandemic is over” and purchasing a custom URL to host the download page for the cards. The site lists which cities in Canada have mask exemptions and on what grounds.
In the U.S., a group called the “Freedom to Breathe Agency” has started passing out exemption cards across the country. The U.S. Department of Justice was forced to respond after the cards used the agency’s logo—and misspelled “poses”—in June. A recent viral video shows a woman showing a department store employee one of the cards and threatening her with legal action if she enforces the store’s mask policy.
“Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Martin in June. “These cards do not carry the force of law.”
Most doctors endorse the use of masks and say that there are no known harms that come from wearing one. Recently a group of more than 80 physicians and dentists in B.C. wrote a letter urging the province to enforce a mandatory mask policy. In June, the Canadian Thoracic Society wrote in a paper that “there is NO evidence that wearing a face mask will exacerbate (cause a ’flare-up’ of) an underlying lung condition.”
After a long downward trend, COVID-19 cases in Alberta have been climbing. On Friday, Alberta Health reported 134 new cases in the province, the largest single-day increase in over two weeks. Of the 1,125 active cases in Alberta, 329 of them come from Edmonton.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.