Growing petition calls for mandatory masks on Winnipeg Transit

By | August 24, 2020

WINNIPEG — While the provincial health officials currently recommend people wear masks on public transit, in Winnipeg it is not mandatory – but some Winnipeggers would like to see that change.

Zach Fleisher, a concerned Winnipegger and former director of communications for the Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 (ATU 1505), launched a petition online calling on the City of Winnipeg to make masks mandatory on public transit.

“Right now I’m not taking the bus because I don’t feel quite entirely safe – you don’t see a lot of people wearing masks,” Fleisher told CTV News. “Obviously masks aren’t the saving grace entirely, but they do provide an opportunity for protection.”

He said with the weather starting to turn cold, many people who normally bike or walk have concerns about using transit.

“I want people who rely on transit to feel safe on transit,” he said. “I think that if you have a mandatory mask policy, you kind of increase that confidence.”

Other cities across Canada have required residents to mask-up before getting on a bus.

Calgary passed a bylaw in July requiring masks in all indoor public buildings and public transit. The City of Edmonton followed suit shortly after Calgary.

The City of Regina announced it would be mandating masks on Regina Transit routes on Aug. 31 in preparation for a spike in ridership during the back-to-school season.

Other cities across Canada, including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal have also adopted the mandatory mask policy.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said on Monday that health officials have been strongly recommending people wear masks where physical distancing is not possible.

“The messaging has really continued to evolve to really just indoor places where you can’t even be sure, so certainly my recommendation is on public transportation to wear a mask,” Roussin said.

He said due to the rising cases in the Prairie Mountain Health Region, masks have been made mandatory for in all indoor public spaces and outdoor public gatherings in the region.

But in Winnipeg, the province has said – at least for now – the decision to mandate masks on public transit will be left to the city.

David Driedger, the manager of corporate communications for the City of Winnipeg told CTV News the city is following provincial health guidelines.

“At this time, the Province of Manitoba has recommended the use of masks in situations where maintaining consistent physical distancing is challenging, such as on public transit,” Driedger said in a written statement.

“As such, Winnipeg Transit is recommending the use of non-medical face masks while riding the bus or using Winnipeg Transit Plus.”

Still, Fleisher said he would like to see city council do more.

“I think they have a responsibility at the end of the day to protect front line workers – that would be the transit drivers and people who use the bus – and do everything that they can to prevent the spread,” he said.

As of Monday evening, more than 500 people have signed the petition. Among them is James Van Gerwen, the executive vice president of ATU 1505, who said he supports the call for mandatory masks for passengers.

“I would love to see 100 per cent of the passengers wearing masks on the bus, if it takes being mandatory, then so be it,” he said. “It is all of our responsibility to keep this pandemic down, and I think we should be proactive and do it.”

He said if masks do become mandatory, drivers will not be in charge of enforcing the rule.

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