Rob Murray: I’m speaking with Banff Mayor Karen Sorenson. As tourism starts to ramp up in Banff, council is taking some action to try to protect people. Tell us a little bit about this mandatory mask bylaw.

Mayor Karen Sorensen: A couple of weeks ago council directed administration to create a mandatory mask bylaw. When municipalities put bylaws it’s a big process and it’s not something that we do lightly. I really want to give kudos to administration and our municipal clerk for getting this bylaw together for us in a two week timeframe. It showed up at Governance and Finance, and then we recommended that it go to council that very afternoon. Then we passed three readings. Again, a very unusual process for a bylaw, but we were hearing from our residents that this is something they wanted and the faster we could do it the better from their perspective.

RM: On the agenda for Monday it said that there was a recommendation to do first reading and then wait a little bit for second and third. Why did council feel was important to just get it done right now?

KS: Normally what would happen is you would do first reading in order to get public feedback, but council did believe it was important to get it done as soon as possible. There was a desire to look at the August long weekend and have it in place before this weekend, which has historically always been our busiest weekend. And although we didn’t actively pursue feedback, which we would normally do, we got a lot of feedback, not only over social media, but direct letters to council. I received a lot of feedback myself. Then we had one person, she had done an online kind of Google thing and she had over 700 responses. So we felt we did have a lot and there really seemed to be a desire for us to get this done quickly.

RM: What are some of the specifics of the bylaw? Where do people need to wear masks?

KS: Indoor public spaces, which includes shops, hotel, lobbies, certainly restaurants. It’s interesting how many comments I see about, well, how are you supposed to wear a mask in a restaurant? The intention, of course, is to wear your mask into the restaurant, and once you’re seated in your own little cohort you can remove your mask in order to eat and drink. What Banff also added, which is unique – we don’t believe there’s any other municipality in Canada that has put a mandatory bylaw in place in an outdoor space – we’ve included the 100 and 200 block of Banff Avenue, which has become a pedestrian zone. We are seeing the numbers of people increasing, particularly on the weekends. There’s still space to socially distance, but when we get lineups at some of our more popular stores or into restaurants, or even trying to get in and out of a doorway can get a little close. So for the period of time that the 100 and 200 block of Banff Avenue is a pedestrian zone, we have put the mandatory mass bylaw in place there.

RM: Calgary has adopted it. I believe Lethbridge is going this direction. Banff is going this direction. That’s just a few municipalities. Do you feel that more and more will be adopting this in the coming weeks?

KS: I am very supportive of this regional effort that seems to be happening. We’ve had a request from a couple of other municipalities in Alberta to have a look at our bylaw. We’re all sharing our information readily. And of course, Canmore is coming along – I believe they’ve called a special meeting for next week. From my perspective, for our residents of Alberta to know that, for the most part, wherever they are in the province, that the rules are the same, and that it’s just so important that people understand that masks are a good tool to help us prevent this. We are not minimizing the importance of social distancing. That is probably still the most important thing to do. Sanitizing your hands, staying home when you’re sick, but masks are an effective tool. I think our council and others in the province believe – why wouldn’t we put every tool in place that we possibly can in order to flatten this curve again?

RM: Tell us a little bit about some of the help that you’re getting to get the word out and get the distribution of masks out there.

KS: People continue to talk about enforcement. That is a challenge for all municipalities, but it’s certainly not our go-to. It’s not our first response to enforce on this. What we’re trying to do is educate. And one of the most proactive things that Banff has certainly done is hire safety ambassadors. You’ll see them out on Banff Avenue. We have some tabletops and tents where people can approach our safety ambassadors to receive information and receive a free mask. They’re also wandering the streets and currently asking people, if they’re not wearing a mask, if they would like one. As of Friday at noon, when the bylaw comes into play, they will be out and about telling people that there is a bylaw and that they have masks available at no charge, and trying to encourage people to put them on and adhere to the bylaw. It’s sort of a friendly face – it’s not enforcement, it’s not bylaw officers, it’s just our local residents out and about saying we’re trying to create this culture here. We’re trying to normalize mask use, and it is a bylaw. Here’s a mask for you. Please put it on.

Filed under: Banff, covid-19