B.C. businesses added to social media ‘blacklist’ for encouraging mask use

VANCOUVER —
Even though masks are no longer legally mandated in B.C. malls and stores, many businesses continue to encourage mask use for the safety of customers and staff – and that decision is getting them named and shamed on a social media blacklist.

In the private Facebook group Whitelist Blacklist BC Only, users derisively describe masks as “face diapers,” and call the people who advocate for their use during the COVID-19 pandemic “maskholes.”

They also spread the word about which businesses are still requesting that customers cover their mouths and noses in the absence of a province-wide mandate to do so.

Targets include everything from massive casinos to the Wedge Cheesery, a small cheese shop that Matt MacLaren and his wife run in Vernon, a community of about 40,000 people located in the province’s Southern Interior.

The couple learned about the blacklist a few days ago after a barrage of rude comments and anti-masker memes started showing up on the Wedge Cheesery Facebook page.

“We found out about this group where they were posting about people and blacklisting their businesses and saying a whole bunch of nasty things while they’re at it – really childish things, childish behaviour from fully grown adults,” MacLaren told CTV News.

The shop’s website boasts cheese offerings from around the world, cheese tastings with wine, and a goal of bringing “outstanding service, cheese and smiles” to the community.

So what drew so much negative attention? A Facebook post from Wedge Cheesery that said staff would “greatly appreciate” if customers continue to wear a mask for the time being.

MacLaren said none of the shop’s employees are fully vaccinated yet because of their age, and he wanted to make sure they were protected.

“We weren’t in full agreeance, I think, with the mask mandate being lifted,” he said. “We also wanted to make sure our workers felt safe, and so we had a discussion with the manager and we decided that we wouldn’t make it a mandatory thing, but we would appreciate if people still did wear masks in the shop.”

The response in the blacklist group, which has about 2,100 members, was swift.

“Go to hell!”

“Everyone needs to stop shopping there.”

“True colours shining through.”

“I’ll be sure to #boycottwedgechersery” (sic)

“No cheese is good enough to make me wear a mask to buy it.”

The cheese shop’s Facebook post, which has since been deleted, said management would keep encouraging mask use until federal officials declare the COVID-19 crisis over, or until “everyone” is vaccinated, including children under the age of 12.

Several members of the blacklist group were aghast at the suggestion, though manufacturers are currently studying the use of COVID-19 vaccines in younger children, and just this week chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that outbreaks among unvaccinated children will be “a reality going forward.”

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization already recommends that everyone age six months and older receive the annual flu vaccine, with a few rare exceptions.

MacLaren said the meaning behind the shop’s message was misconstrued – they never intended to imply that every single person has to get the COVID-19 vaccine – but it was too late. Before anyone reached out to clarify the shop’s position, the pile-on began.

Beyond the comments, some people left one-star reviews for the Wedge Cheesery online, which MacLaren said is the last thing businesses need after enduring the last 16 months of the pandemic.

“To say I don’t agree with a business’s policy – which is, I feel, a relatively normal policy considering the times we’re in – and blacklist that business because of it, that’s just insane. That’s ridiculous,” he said. “You’re hurting local businesses, the local economy.”

Some of the blacklist group users are under the impression that it’s now against the law for B.C. businesses to require masks, given that the Ministry of Public Safety replaced its mandate with an indoor mask recommendation on July 1.

That’s not the case. Asked about the legality of requiring masks, a ministry spokesperson directed CTV News to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s website, which states that “private businesses have a right to refuse entry to customers not wearing a mask,” and can instead provide curbside pickup options or advise people to shop online.

Businesses do have a responsibility to accommodate customers who can’t wear a mask for reasons related to a disability or medical condition, according to the BCCDC. The Ministry of Public Safety also recommends businesses that choose to require masks make some exceptions, including for children under 12.

Failure to accomodate people with legitimate medical conditions can result in a human rights complaint, though a ruling from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal earlier this year cautioned that anyone claiming discrimination over mask policies will be required to prove they are unable to wear one.

Some of the blacklist group members do cite health conditions for their inability to wear a mask. Many others consider mask use the behaviour of “zombies” and “sheep.”

In the end, MacLaren said his business ended up getting a minor boost from the online attacks. He shared their story in a local COVID-19 information group, also on Facebook, and received a heartwarming outpouring of support.

“A ton of people left five-star reviews on our Google page after reading what happened – and they’re actual supporters of our shop, people who have been inside,” he said. “Actual customers.”

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