A Williams Lake woman is hoping for more understanding from the public after feeling discriminated against for being medically incapable of wearing a COVID-19 mask for extended periods of time.
Megan Fletcher, 39, is a single mom of two children and said she is on permanent, life-long disability which, among other conditions, relates to anxiety and being prone to panic attacks.
Wearing a mask, she said, triggers her symptoms.
“My anxiety is so bad I don’t want to even leave the house. And then, to have trouble breathing and having to go into a store and having a panic attack is very oppressive to me.”
While mask wearing is now a requirement in all public indoor settings and workplaces, the B.C. Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, has laid out several exemptions for those unable to wear one.
From the B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner: “You don’t have to wear a mask if you are under 12 years old, are unable to wear a mask because of a health condition or physical or mental impairment, or are unable to put on or remove a mask without help from another person.”
Fletcher said it’s become increasingly difficult to carry out her day-to-day tasks that involve going inside stores in the city. She noted she also does not have a credit card, making online shopping next to impossible.
“My understanding and what I’ve been told is the owners are to offer alternative services if you are exempt — by pick up, by delivery — so you can still be accommodated without going into their store. There’s been no offer of that here. It’s discrimination, basically.”
Fletcher said she’s been refused service, kicked out of stores and even had the police called on her after getting into an argument over her refusal to wear a mask at a local business.
After being told to leave, Fletcher said she called the business several times to find out what the business’s policy is, resulting in them phoning the police.
Conversely, staff and business operators are not expected to put themselves at risk if a visitor becomes belligerent or abusive. Operators and employees are recommended to contact enforcement officers such as security or the police to remove the visitor.
“People seem to have a very black and white view of this situation,” Fletcher said. “Either you wear one or you don’t But there are so many variations on what’s actually going on and everyone is an individual with the right to approach it as they see fit. We don’t know everyone’s story and need to be a little more open-minded and compassionate to others, and give them the benefit of the doubt that they know themselves and that they try to be respectful of everyone’s rights.”