COVID-19: Calgary mom ‘humiliated’ after daughter with disabilities refused entry to store over lack of mask

A Calgary mom is demanding answers after her daughter, who is confined to a wheelchair and is non-verbal, was denied entry into a local store because she wasn’t wearing a face mask.

Cindy Feist told Global News she and her two daughters went to Hot Topic at Southcentre Mall last Friday to return some items. But she said one of her daughters was turned away at the door.

“He says to me: ‘You can’t come in’,” Feist said. “And I said: ‘She’s one of the exceptions, she’s disabled and can’t wear a mask.’”

Feist said she and her other daughter were both wearing masks but the store staffer wouldn’t budge so she left.

“I was really hurt and emotional about it,” she said. “I was humiliated — we had people all staring at us.”

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Feist said her 18-year-old daughter Abby does not like to wear anything on her face and when she has tried to put a mask on her she throws it off.

“It’s not like she’s doing it to be ignorant or not follow the rules. She just doesn’t like anything on her face,” Feist said.

A Calgary mom demands answers after daughter with disabilities is refused entry into store
A Calgary mom demands answers after daughter with disabilities is refused entry into store. Global News

Read more: Mask complaints rise in Calgary prompting calls for more enforcement support

Calgary’s temporary mask bylaw has been in place since Aug. 1 and requires masks to be used in all public indoor spaces, including malls, grocery stores, city-owned buildings, retail businesses and places of worship.

Exemptions include children under the age of two, people with underlying medical conditions and people who are unable to put on or remove a mask without help.

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Feist said Abby should have been exempted.

“I don’t think it’s fair because to me it feels like discrimination,” she said.

Global News reached out to Hot Topic for a response multiple times but did not hear back.

Feist did get a response when she complained on the company’s website.

“We cannot apologize enough for the inconveniences you have faced while visiting our store in Calgary, Alberta,” the company said.

The retailer went on to say it would be investigating what happened so that it wouldn’t happen again. However, it also stated that “due to the pandemic outbreak, we are taking additional precautions to help ensure the health of our employees and our customers. Our stores have a strict mask policy when entering any of our locations.”

Hot Topic offered Feist some other options, including free online shopping and possibly an opportunity to shop without a mask if the manager opened the store 30 minutes earlier.

Southcentre told Global News that mask requirements are specific to every store and their corporate health and safety protocols.

The Retail Council of Canada, which advocates for retailers in Canada, reiterated that businesses decide who to let in.

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“The basic rights of a property and business owner is the same as it is in a private house,” said Karl Littler, the council’s senior vice-president of public affairs. “They are protecting their staff and other customers.

“It’s a judgement call.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Customers without masks can be refused service, experts agree

Feist referred back to the City of Calgary’s mandatory mask bylaw, which lays out exemptions.

City officials told Global News that “businesses are not responsible for enforcing the face coverings bylaw and are not accountable to deny service or entry to those who are unable to wear face coverings due to an exemption.

“It is important to note that businesses or establishments do have the ability to create their own policies and manage them as such,” the city said.

However, the city said it also wanted to remind Calgarians that it’s important to remember there are exceptions to the bylaw, and to “exercise a compassionate approach when someone is not wearing a mask”.

Feist said she just wished that some of that compassion had been directed at her, and especially Abby.

“Don’t mess with my child,” she said. “I know she’s an adult now, but don’t mess with her because I’m a mama bear and I’m going to stand up for her.”

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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