Who was that unmasked man? | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (January 22, 2021, 2:43 PM EST) --
Marcel Strigberger
“No mask for me; I’m special,” he says. 

Current COVID-19 rules require us to wear masks in public areas. But to what extent is this obligation understood and enforced?

I visited a beer store recently. Given my boomer status, I am deemed high risk and advised to avoid crowded stores. I generally shop curbside. However I enjoy a particular brand of ale, Lagunitas IPA, and the nearby beer store that sells it, does not do curbside. Actually I’m wrong. I did phone the place and the employee said they do curbside, but I have to come into the store to get it. I guess by curbside he must be referring to my car which I can park curbside.

I asked the man when they are the least busy, to ensure that I would have an almost private audience with the store. Once I received assurance of the place being customer challenged, I sallied over. I carefully put on a mask and entered. Only the two store clerks were there. So far.

As I waited for my much-prized ale, a gentleman came in, no mask on. I was mortified. I jumped up against the plexiglass counter, like a trapped hockey referee. I asked the maskless guest where his mask was, and he told me he was exempt as he had “a condition.” He then added, “and it’s none of your business.” Actually, he was a little more descriptive in qualifying the word “business.”

I realized I should not have drawn him into a conversation as speaking can emit droplets. I now felt like I was virtually face to face with a Corona-belching dragon.

I asked the store clerk how they allowed Smaug in here. He told me the man comes in regularly and they were both “following the law.”

I grabbed my precious ale and scooted out. What to do next? Follow the law of course.

I called the police (not 911 though I did consider it. This issue was urgent. As far as I was concerned I would have felt more comfortable doing business inside the Bates Motel).

The receptionist told me this was not a police matter and she suggested calling the city’s bylaw enforcement office. She did agree with me that I should take the incident seriously and follow up. She also agreed that Lagunitas IPA was a great ale.

I called bylaw enforcement and I was in for a shock. The lady told me that if a customer says he or she cannot wear a mask as a result of a condition, the store cannot go further, and they have to respect this response. I suggested that maybe the store should at least announce some alert to customers already there, to give them a chance to take evasive action. Maybe trigger some discreet noise, like a submerging submarine. She told me the law is greyish on this problem and there is nothing in place allowing for it. I didn’t think so. The law is often greyish.

I thought of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter. In frustration, I suggested that in all fairness to us mask mindful people that those claiming “a condition” exemption should be made to scribble on their foreheads in red the letter C. We were dealing with a situation certainly far more potentially sinister than Hester. At least it would save engaging conversations with terrified surrounding customers. 

I’m not sure how seriously the bylaw officer took my comment as she said, “they can’t do that as it would create privacy issues.”

Totally understandable. Privacy protection trumping COVID-19 spread makes perfect sense.

We chatted a bit more and she ended saying I can contact my MPP.

I’m not sure if I’ll take this any further. A few days have elapsed, and I feel OK. The best we can all do in these weird times is just take a deep breath, relax and enjoy a good drink. That’s always good law.


Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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