mandatory masks toronto

Here's what Toronto store owners think of people who won't wear face masks

Face masks have been mandatory in Toronto for about a week, but when it comes to which of their customers will actually comply, some business owners say it's still the luck of the draw. 

Prior to the passing of the City's new bylaw, it wasn't mandatory for nearly every type of business in Toronto to enforce mask-on policies for customers while indoors.

The City's new bylaw hasn't been received well by everybody since it came into effect July 7: anti-maskers flouted the rule by riding the TTC without face coverings last week, and the simple request triggered a racist rant in a Mississauga T&T that might result in criminal charges.

But while refusal to wear a mask doesn't bear much implication for the regular citizenry (there are no fines for noncompliance), it does for business owners — $1,000 worth. 

William Han, owner of the neighbourhood staple Liberty Convenience, says that resistance to the new rule has forced his store to take extra measures, like refusing service to customers without masks. 

"Initially we felt bad kicking people out," says Han. "We're very frustrated. We don't want to enforce it, we don't want to spend extra money on masks for customers, but people don't seem to understand what a bylaw is." 

"More and more people are listening to the rules because we're actually turning people away... We certainly don't want to be the first [store] to get fined." 

Han now invests in temporary masks from Costco for customers who don't have them, and has restricted capacity at his store down to five. He's also installed new signs printed directly from the City website on his door stating no mask, no entry.

The measures have sparked a mixed bag of angry reactions from customers, similar to those when the government implemented the mandatory plastic bag tax, says Han, or others who've accused Han of playing doctor. 

And then there are a growing number of people who say they have asthma, a rationalization that Han (who has asthma himself) calls "inexcusable."

"Suddenly, everyone has asthma," says Han. "This isn't for the safety of me, this is for your safety. I came into contact with a couple hundred of people today. I may not be a frontline worker, but I have to be safe for you guys." 

mandatory masks toronto

Toronto's mandatory mask bylaw puts the onus on business owners, with some exemptions that make it tricky to enforce. Photo via City of Toronto.

The bylaw makes some exemptions, like for children under the age of 2, for people who are hearing impaired, or for people who require accommodation in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code. 

Ultimately, it's up to stores to decide how best to enforce the bylaw, but loose rules which don't actually require proof for exemptions make it a tricky line to walk. Business owners who've encountered only a little resistance consider themselves fortunate, albeit fearful of customer blowouts.

"...We consider ourselves lucky as we've read many horror stories online, in our neighbourhood too," say Stephanie Drabik and Rose Chang, owners of the Annex shop Crywolf

Drabik and Rose say that prior to the bylaw, they had one instance of someone refusing to take a disposable mask, but have otherwise been met by customer cooperation since. 

Still, they're prepped for customer negative interactions, if it comes down to it. 

"To be honest we are scared of it happening. We are the only ones working at the store right now... We are prepared to offer them the alternative of shopping online and doing curbside pickup and if they refused that, we would have to ask them to leave."

"We would likely call on a neighbour if somebody was being aggressive and we were afraid." 

Ontario's reopening plan is well underway — social gatherings limits are growing and parts of the province have moved on to Stage 3 — but the people of Toronto should prepare to continue wearing face masks for the forseeable future if we want the city to open up further. 

Lead photo by

Cali Games

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