No mask, no in-person voting on Sept. 20.
That is the message being sent out by Elections Canada, which confirmed today that in-person voters for the upcoming federal election will have to mask up in order to cast their ballots in person in B.C. — one of the provinces that now have mask mandates for public indoor spaces.
In previous provincial elections during the pandemic (including one in B.C. last October), an elector’s right to vote trumped mask requirements. But Elections Canada officials said they will follow the rules set by local health authorities in each jurisdiction — which means B.C.’s mask mandate will be the rule for voters in this province.
“As stated in the public health order, exemptions will be made for medical reasons,” said Elections Canada’s spokeswoman for the B.C. region, Andrea Marantz. “Any elector can apply for a mail-in ballot, online at elections.ca or in person at a returning office.”
The application deadline for getting mail-in ballots is Sept. 14 at 6 p.m., Marantz confirmed.
She added that Elections Canada will employ the honour system in terms of medical exemptions for masks at in-person voting locations. That means, she said, that voters who refuse to wear masks in-person will not be asked to provide proof of medical reasons for not wearing a mask.
Marantz also noted Elections Canada is trying its best to avoid situations where people showing up at the ballot boxes on Sept. 20 are turned away.
“We are making that information available all over the place,” she said. “It’s on social media and on our website.
“The best answer is that we will also have boxes of masks available,” Marantz added. “So if someone shows up without a mask, we will have one available for them.”
Masks have become one of the most hotly contested topic for protesters during the COVID-19 pandemic (the other being vaccinations). Several demonstrations have taken place in the province over the mask mandate at various times of its implementation in B.C. since March 2020, and Elections Canada’s decision to follow the mandate has already drawn ire on social media — where anti-mask groups are decrying the move.
However, Elections Canada is unlikely to shift its position, officials confirmed.
“As we mentioned, mail-in ballot is an option that’s available,” Marantz said. “If this is a matter of choice, then that’s likely a better choice for that individual.”
And for anti-mask protesters potentially making this an issue on Election Day by disrupting the vote?
“We hope that it won’t happen,” Marantz noted. “Of course, we can’t make those kinds of choices for other people. But I think we are really putting out the alternatives that are available for voting, and — given there are public health orders in place in some jurisdictions — we are following those health orders.”
B.C. reintroduced mask mandates indoors on Aug. 25 as new cases of COVID-19 have surged across Canada, driven by the reopening of the economy and the advent of the Delta variant of the highly contagious virus.
Provinces without provincial-level mandates include Alberta and Saskatchewan.