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Toronto's mask law needs 'clarification,' puts onus on businesses to enforce it, critics say

Some business owners and experts in employment law say Toronto's mandatory mask bylaw is creating issues because it's unclear for some and puts the onus on businesses to enforce it.

The city is leaving it to business owners and operators to create a policy, post signage and ensure people are wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. If they aren't doing that, they can be issued a $1,000 fine.

Right now, the city says it's concentrating on education rather than enforcement and hasn't issued any fines. But some people are taking advantage of what seems to some like a murky and somewhat confusing bylaw — for example, groups creating fake medical exemption cards and staging anti-mask protests.

"The actual understanding [of the bylaw] probably still needs more clarification," said David Howitt, the chair of the Bloor West Village BIA. He says he hasn't had any issues with customers not wearing masks, but other businesses have.

"It's tough because peoples' fuses are short, hot weather, they don't like being told what to do," said Howitt, who owns Marlborough's, a stationery and gift shop on Bloor Street West a couple of blocks east of Jane Street.

Andrew Monkhouse, a Toronto employment lawyer, says putting the onus on businesses to police customers who flout the rules can cause problems.

"Individual businesses have to make choices, which might upset some customers or some of their employees," he told CBC Toronto.

Employees are then left with a tough decision: risk breaking the bylaw and receive a fine, or deny service to someone who may have a legitimate reason for not wearing a mask. Under Toronto's bylaw, people who are exempt from wearing a mask don't need to provide proof.

Monkhouse says staff have the right to refuse service to anyone, including if they aren't wearing a mask, as long as the reason isn't based on discrimination. 


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