Boy with Autism and Medical Conditions Turned Away from Indigo for Refusing to Wear a Mask

Masks are important to minimize the spread of COVID-19 as we work hard as a society to contain the virus and keep everyone as healthy as possible. However, exceptions to the mask rules are in place for a reason. It’s deeply saddening to see people who are eager to strictly enforce mask rules but who refuse to take heed of the exceptions.

When Tina Chiao and her 12-year-old son went shopping at the Indigo Store in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, she wasn’t expecting any trouble. She was wearing her mask, but her son was not due to his medical conditions. He is unable to wear a mask due to a neurodevelopmental disorder, autism, epilepsy, and sensory processing disorder. He’s legally exempt because of these conditions, and he’s also just barely above the age cutoff requiring him to wear a mask. Children below the age of 12 are not required to wear masks in British Columbia.

Photo: Adobe Stock/OlgaLitvinovaFoto

However, Tina and her son were immediately denied entry to the store when workers saw that the boy was not wearing a mask. Tina tried to explain why the boy was exempt, but the pair was turned away anyway.

Tina filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, but it doesn’t change the fact that she wasn’t able to complete her shopping trip that day.

Indigo has responded to the complaint, saying that the store fully complied with mask regulations. They offer online shopping options for people who cannot come into the store for whatever reason, including if they cannot wear a mask.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Ivan Kruk

According to the Human Rights Commission of British Columbia, the following people are exempt from the requirement to wear masks in public places: anyone under the age of 12, anyone who is unable to put on or remove a mask without the help of another person, and anyone who is medically unable to wear a mask due to a health condition or impairment (whether that health condition or impairment is physical, psychological, behavioral, cognitive or emotional).

It seems pretty obvious that Tina’s son fits within this description. He’s not some angsty teen or ne’er-do-well just trying to get away with not following the rules; he’s a child with a medical condition who requires compassion and understanding as he does his best to navigate a world that doesn’t always do a great job catering to his needs.

Photo: Adobe Stock/triocean

“We need to ensure there is balance between the rights of people who cannot wear a mask on the basis of protected grounds in B.C.’s Human Rights Code (such as disability) and the public health risks, especially to people who are at risk of more severe illnesses,” writes Kasari Govender, BC’s Human Rights Commissioner.

Hopefully, this incident will encourage Indigo and other stores to do a better job of training their staff members to carefully follow regulations, including making exceptions where exceptions are warranted.

The tribunal has yet to rule on the case.

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