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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Behind the scenes of Dr. Henry’s last-ditch resistance to a mask mandate

COVID Exclusive: Behind the scenes of Dr. Henry’s last-ditch resistance to a mask mandate

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Bob Mackin

Almost five months after officials in Toronto and Washington state mandated masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, British Columbia finally required mouths and noses be covered at indoor public spaces in late November.

But Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry resisted through much of the fall, just as she had in the spring when she discouraged mask-wearing before reluctantly suggesting homemade versions.

Dr. Bonnie Henry Nov. 16, 2020 (BC Gov)

Henry made one last bid to keep the status quo, in a Nov. 16-released opinion-editorial that the NDP government hoped would be published by media outlets. Vancouver Sun and CTV printed the 565-word piece.

The column, attributed to Henry, claimed masks were already mandated in B.C. under business COVID-19 safety plans, healthcare facility operational policies and public institution restart policies. The column suggested British Columbians take personal responsibility to wear masks, instead of wait for a legal order that Henry had declined to issue.

“Ordering universal mask use in all situations creates unnecessary challenges with enforcement and stigmatization,” said the op-ed. “We need only look at the COVID-19 transmission rates in other jurisdictions that have tried using such orders to see what little benefit these orders by themselves have served.”

Email released to theBreaker.news under the freedom of information law shows that a government communications staffer, a public relations contractor and possibly Henry’s sister Lynn were involved in creating the op-ed, which did not stand the test of time.

The drafts were withheld under a controversial section of the B.C. FOI law that allows bureaucrats to keep secret their advice and recommendations to other bureaucrats and politicians.

Ministry of Health communications director Jean-Marc Prevost sent Henry a draft with a file called “OpEd_Masks_Nov_15_430pm.docx” attached at 4:33 p.m. on Nov. 15.

“For your consideration following our discussion this afternoon DrH. Please let us know of any concerns or suggestions,” Prevost wrote. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry email (BCGov)

At 5:50 p.m., a message from public relations contractor Nicola Lambrechts to “J.M. and Bonnie.”

“I have also been working on the mask op-ed over the weekend. Used the Friday version as a basis, but made quite a few edits. Here’s what I put together. Thanks, Nicola.”

(Correspondence from Nov. 13 was not provided to theBreaker.news, suggesting it was either deleted or conducted on another platform not searched by bureaucrats in the government’s FOI department.)

Henry replied at 11:04 a.m. Nov. 16.

“Hi all, Here is a revised oped. Let me know what you think. My best, Bonnie.”

The filename of the attachment: “masks OP ED LH edit.docx”.

Henry and her FOI coordinator in the Provincial Health Officer’s department, Michelle Sullivan, did not respond to questions from theBreaker.news about the meaning of the “LH” in the filename.

At the time, Henry was finishing her memoir about the first wave of the pandemic with sister, Lynn Henry, the publishing director of Knopf Canada. The book, Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe, was eventually published March 9, during the third wave.

Before 5 p.m. on Nov. 16, the op-ed was posted on the government communications website and sent to media outlets. It did little to quell the increasing calls for a mask mandate as B.C.’s second wave accelerated.

TransLink mask mandate sign (TransLink)

It finally happened, just three days after the op-ed.

On Nov. 19, Henry announced an about-face on masks. The mandate, however, would be imposed five days later. Not by Henry, but by Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, under the Emergency Program Act (EPA).

Masks were required to be worn by anyone 12 and up at a long list of places, including stores, restaurants, churches, buses and offices. But not elementary or high schools. Fines for refusal to wear a mask were set at $230.

The news release about the long overdue mask mandate did not quote Henry. It mentioned her by title, but not by name.

“We’ve entered a second wave of COVID-19 in British Columbia and additional steps need to be taken to protect our health,” Farnworth said. “This new order under the EPA will ensure we have the tools necessary to enforce the mask mandate as recommended by the PHO.”

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