As pretty much every council in the GTHA has approved mandatory masking, one might have thought Hamilton Council’s approval of a mask bylaw would be pro-forma. After all, the Board of Health, which is comprised of every member of council had already approved the mask by law by a vote of 13-2 with a reasonable tone in the debate.
Most of the discussion at Council took the form of councillors’ questions about various details of the masking bylaw. But Councillor Terry Whitehead put staff though a line of more aggressive and skeptical questioning. In addition, he and Councillor Maureen Wilson had been sniping at each other, something that is becoming a regular occurrence. He also got into a side-bar Twitter spat with Public Record reporter Joey Coleman who he called a “hack,” after Coleman had chided him for being the only councillor who has problems using the remote meeting technology.
All of this came to a head when it was Whitehead’s turn to speak on the issue. He took exception to some criticism he had received around the (virtual) table for the tone of his questioning of staff. He launched into a highly emotional speech, telling councillors that in a previous occupation he had followed medical advice to coat his lungs with a metal dust in order to ward off silicosis. He says he now is suffering health problems from the treatment. For that reason, he said, he should not be criticized for sharp questioning of health officials. “There are all kinds of examples where health advice has harmed– even killed people,” he said. He also said people who cannot wear masks for medical or psychological reasons cannot wear masks, should not be ostracized.
Whitehead was not the only councillor who, while supporting the mask bylaw, still had issues. Councillor Judy Partridge said she supports wearing masks but can’t support putting the enforcement onus on merchants in stores. Councillor Brad Clark took a similar tack questioning why individuals who disobey the mask by law are fined $200 while the store operator stands to be fined $500.
In the end the masking bylaw passed with only Whitehead opposed. Councillors received over 60 citizen letters, only two of which were in favour of mandatory masking.