A man in a mask boards a bus on campus at Western University in London, Ontario on March 13, 2020 (AFP / Geoff Robins)

Website falsely claims mask-wearing is mandatory in Canada during COVID-19

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Articles claim that not wearing a mask in Canada during the novel coronavirus pandemic can lead to a Can$3,000 fine or jail time. This is false. Masks are required aboard airplanes and by certain stores, but AFP did not find any Canadian jurisdiction where wearing them on the street is mandatory.

“You Can Get Jail Time Or $3,000 Fine For Not Wearing A Face Mask In Canada Starting Today,” according to the headline of an article on Canada Eh?, a website debunked several times by AFP in the past. 

Two nearly identical articles were published on the same website on May 11. Together, the articles were shared more than 2,000 times, according to CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring tool.

Screenshots taken on May 18, 2020 show two variants of the same false information on Canada Eh?

However, the articles are false. AFP did not find any jurisdiction in Canada where wearing a mask is mandatory, although it is recommended by federal, provincial, and municipal authorities.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says on its COVID-19 prevention webpage that “wearing a non-medical mask while out in public is optional.” It adds that masks alone are not sufficient, and instead recommends their use alongside other measures including frequent handwashing and social distancing.

Asked about fines and jail time for individuals who do not wear masks in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the country’s federal police force, referred AFP to PHAC’s web page above.

During a COVID-19 update on April 6, 2020, Dr Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said wearing face covers can help to limit the spread of infection, while reminding that “wearing a non-medical mask in the community has not been proven to protect the person wearing it.”

At the country-wide level, Canadians are only required to wear masks aboard an airplane. According to an interim order from the Canadian ministry of transport, all air travellers must undergo a health check and verification that they are carrying a mask or face covering before boarding. 

People who do not answer truthfully during the health check and mask verification can be fined up to $5,000, and can be denied entry to the airplane.

Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, the country’s three most populous provinces, all recommend wearing a mask in public. 

In Quebec, public information stresses the need to wear the mask whenever social distancing is impossible, such as in shops. In Ontario, the emphasis is on wearing a face covering when showing symptoms or caring for someone who has COVID-19.

Cities such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and the capital Ottawa do not impose mask-wearing in public.

Wearing a mask in grocery stores is recommended but not mandatory, although certain chains such as Costco, Whole Foods, and Toronto’s Longo’s, have made it a condition to enter their premises.

The articles on Canada Eh? use several quotes from unnamed officials as proof that masks are mandatory in Canada. One of them reads: “Starting tomorrow, people in Canada are required to wear face coverings at essential businesses, in public facilities, on transit, and while performing essential work.” 

This quote, and another two from the same articles, appear to be directly plagiarized from a tweet by San Francisco’s mayor London Breed, who announced these rules for her city on Twitter on April 17. The words “today” and “San Francisco” in the original tweet were exchanged for “tomorrow” and “Canada” in the false articles.

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 455 examples of false or misleading information about the novel coronavirus crisis. A complete list of our fact checks on the topic in English can be found here.

UPDATE: This post was edited on May 19, 2020 to change the byline.