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Opinion stories

SHEPHERD: Being against mandatory masks is not a kooky position

Masks can be a symbol of obedience, and the Canadian tendency to so readily defer to government orders is off-putting.

I live in a mid-sized British Columbian city. Our local buses have signs that say “Please wear a face covering,” but most people do not, including the bus drivers. I have yet to patronize a business that required me to put on a mask, and I have visited many cafes and eateries where the employees weren’t covering their faces.

I was quite surprised, then, when I saw the news that on the other side of the country, the province of Quebec, city of Toronto, and many other regions in Ontario have made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces such as malls, grocery stores and public transit vehicles.

Mainstream media outlets have been pushing the idea that those who are against mandatory mask bylaws are psychologically unstable, not able to think rationally, and have less “cognitive flexibility.” These articles state that mask non-wearers are emotionally incapable of dealing with the pandemic, riddled with anxiety and unable to cope with change.

I am not impressed by this proclivity to medicalize and make judgments about the psychological wellbeing of those of us who may have some qualms with the mandatory mask overreach. Skepticism is healthy. There have been some viral videos of people angrily refusing to wear masks – but those viral videos only exhibit one contingent of the anti-mandatory mask camp.

I am against mandatory masks, but I have always thought – prior to the pandemic – that masks should be normalized on airplanes, as I have often found that if my airplane seatmate coughs during the voyage, I get a cold within the next 48 hours. I can also see the aesthetic appeal of masking: concealing part of your face can add an air of mystery, and some have been sporting masks with cute designs or eye-catching prints. 

But at the same time, masks can be a symbol of obedience, and the Canadian tendency to so readily defer to government orders is off-putting. Not to mention, the idea of masking toddlers is laughable. The idea of masking children is not so much laughable as it is sad. 

BC Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry has said she might consider making masks mandatory down the road, though she is concerned about folks with disabilities and respiratory illnesses. For now, I feel fortunate to live in a community where both mask-wearers and non-wearers are respected, and aren’t subject to harassment or financial penalties.

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