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B.C. businesses could still require masks when mandate ends

Last Updated May 28, 2021 at 1:06 pm PDT

(CITYNEWS/Tony Fera)

B.C. expected to stop requiring masks in indoor public spaces by July 1

Lawyer says if a business continues to require face coverings, that could lead to 'interesting issues'

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The province’s transition from masks being required to recommended could be messy, from a legal perspective, according to a B.C. lawyer.

“A business could still require, in the face of a pandemic, that their customers wear masks. Certainly, that could lead to some interesting issues, if a customer was refusing to wear a mask and the business decided not to serve them,” said lawyer Michael Shapray.

As part of B.C.’s reopening plan, face coverings are expected to go from mandatory in indoor public spaces to recommended as early as July 1 if cases are low, hospitalizations are declining, and 70 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

If the COVID-19 situation in B.C. continues to go in the right direction, there may no longer even be a recommendation for masks by September.

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“If it’s not part of an order, then it becomes something that the province can’t enforce,” Shapray explained, adding there can be a “fine line” between a business refusing to serve an unruly customer and discrimination.

“Can a company require everybody to take off their shoes, if they enter a store?” he offered as an analogy.

When it comes to workers and mask requirements, Shapray expects many businesses would also consider whether employees are vaccinated. But he says there will likely be some “grey area” as to what an employer can impose on an employee.

“[That] includes privacy issues, in terms of even asking an employee to confirm that they’ve been vaccinated,” he said.

Shapray adds it’s possible we could see cases end up before the Human Rights Tribunal.

The president of a UFCW 1518, which represents some of B.C.’s frontline workers, such as grocery store and retail employees, has said members are expressing a mix of excitement and anxiety over word the mask mandate could be coming to an end in the coming weeks.

Kim Novak says they are concerned about whether workers will still have to enforce mask wearing after the order is lifted.

“We faced that going into October, before it became ordered by government and it was a lot of stress on our members,” Novak added.

With files from Monika Gul