Police are encouraging people with medical exemptions to the province’s mask mandate to carry a doctor’s note, but a disability advocate says no one should be asked to prove that they are disabled.
B.C. RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the primary goal of officers is to encourage the public to comply with the health order that requires mask-wearing in most indoor public places and all retail stores.
She said most of the conflict over mask-wearing has arisen because people simply refuse to wear one, not because people with legitimate exemptions are being challenged.
“If you have a medical exemption, we would ask that you carry a note from your doctor. You should be prepared to support those claims,” she said.
Categories of exemption include children under the age of 12, people who cannot remove a mask on their own and people with health conditions or physical, cognitive or mental impairments that make them unable to wear a mask.
Shoihet said if someone reported for violating the mask order says they have an exemption, officers will look for alternatives to issuing a fine, such as offering a few days to produce a medical note to avoid a $230 ticket. “We’ve been dealing with the pandemic since March, so there should have been capability for you to have visited your doctor and your doctor to provide that medical note.”
But Wendy Cox, executive director of the Victoria Resource Disability Centre, said people shouldn’t have to prove they’re disabled and unable to wear a mask.
“I would just encourage everybody to always approach with curiosity and kindness. Never assume somebody is intentionally not wearing a mask because they want to be different, or they’re taking a stand or they’re anti-mask,” she said.
If somebody says they’re unable to wear a mask, “you kind of got to take their word for it."
While she thinks the mandatory mask rule is for the greater good, Cox said it adversely affects those unable to wear a mask. She has talked to people in the disability community who say they’ve received dirty looks or hostile reactions from other customers, but hasn’t heard of retail or hospitality staff denying service.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday the mask mandate is intended to target anti-maskers, and she’s concerned that people who cannot wear a mask will be treated poorly.
“I’m particularly concerned about people with disabilities that may not always be readily apparent, and I know that they feel very vulnerable,” Henry said.