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'Hugs Over Masks': Anti-mask protestors gather near Metrotown SkyTrain station (VIDEO)

"Freedom is essential."
Photo: Marcella Desjarlais / Facebook

Demonstrators gathered outside of Metrotown SkyTrain Station this morning to protest TransLink's new mandatory mask policy that went into effect today. 

In a post on its social media channels, a group called Hugs Over Masks encouraged its supporters to board the SkyTrain at any station at 10 a.m. They were instructed not to wear face masks, and to travel to Metrotown Station to meet the rest of the protestors. Once there, they planned to, "educate [the] public outside the station about the exemptions and real danger and harm from masks in public."

Many of the signs read phrases like "Love over fear" and "Freedom is essential," and nearly all of the demonstrators wore white t-shirts that had an image of a face mask with a red slash across it.

hugs-over-masks-1-newPhoto: Marcella Desjarlais / Facebook

As of Monday, Aug. 24, TransLink requires customers to wear non-medical masks or face coverings while on board all transit vehicles. That said, customers who are unable to wear face coverings due to an underlying medical condition or disability will be exempt from this policy and won’t be asked to wear a mask or face covering.  These customers will have the option to request a TransLink branded card which notes they are exempt from wearing a face covering. 

In a video, Marcella Desjarlais, one of the protestors, says that the group was receiving a great deal of positive feedback from passersby: "We've had lots of honks from trucks...and people are very receptive and friendly.

"I don't think we've had one negative reaction."

When asked about the protest, TransLink Spokesperson Ben Murphy told Vancouver Is Awesome that, “Our policy is aligned with the views of Dr. Henry, who believes a mandatory mask policy is appropriate on public transit at this stage of the pandemic.”

Although Transit Police will be able to enforce a rule or signage requiring face coverings on transit, the initial focus of this policy will be on awareness and education. Frontline employees may inform or remind customers to wear a face covering when on-board transit vehicles.

“Transit is an important service for many British Columbians. TransLink’s decision to make masks mandatory on their vehicles will help make transit safer for passengers, and we can make it safer for our fellow passengers when we wear a mask,” said Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. “Find one that's comfortable and make time to get used to wearing them and taking them on and off as needed. Those of us who are able should be using masks on transit all the time. I do and I expect others to as well.”

The mandatory mask policy is part of TransLink’s Safe Operating Action Plan. This comprehensive plan increases cleaning and sanitizing of transit vehicles and hubs, increases service levels, and creates space between customers where possible.

In June, the transportation agency launched a new campaign aimed at encouraging the use of face coverings and non-medical masks on Metro Vancouver’s transit system. As part of the ‘Wearing is Caring’ campaign, it is handing out more than 15,000 TransLink branded masks at key transit hubs.

V.I.A. reached out to Hugs Over Masks and will update the story when more information becomes available.