Maskless woman with medical exemption removed from BC Ferries vessel for 'causing disturbance'
BC Ferries vessels are seen at Tsawwassen ferry terminal. (Murray Titus)
VICTORIA -- A Vancouver Island woman says she is distraught after she was removed from a BC Ferries sailing for refusing to wear a mask, despite having a doctor’s note that says she has a condition that makes her exempt from wearing a face covering.
The incident occurred around 11 a.m. Wednesday. Two days earlier, the woman - who wanted to only be referred to by her first name, Phoenix - was denied boarding on a BC Ferries sailing because she did not want to wear a mask and did not have documentation from a health-care professional saying that she was exempt.
Phoenix, who lives on Vancouver Island, then remained in Vancouver and sought a doctor’s note saying that she was exempt from wearing a mask due to childhood trauma.
She then returned to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal Wednesday and was allowed to board the ferry. However, while onboard, Phoenix says that a BC Ferries employee asked her to disembark the ferry so they could check her doctor’s note on shore. The Vancouver Island woman says she tried to show her the form while still on the ferry, but the employee insisted that she disembark the vessel.
Phoenix says she refused to disembark and asked to speak with someone else from BC Ferries, while reiterating that she was allowed to board the ferry by ticket staff when she showed them her medical exemption.
Eventually, police were called to the ferry and escorted her off the vessel, alongside six BC Ferries staff, according to the island woman.
In a statement to CTV News, BC Ferries says that the woman was removed from the ferry for poor behaviour.
"A customer who has caused disturbances on several occasions recently was denied travel again yesterday based on earlier behaviour which caused a delay on the Spirit of British Columbia," said the company.
"We appreciate that there are some customers who have medical reasons with doctors notes for not being able to wear masks, however inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated."
BC Ferries said that any further requests for information should be directed to Delta police.
On Wednesday, Delta police told CTV News that they were called to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal after a woman refused to wear a mask and caused "a disturbance." Police say they then escorted the woman off the ferry.
Now, Phoenix says she remains stranded in Vancouver and is trying to figure out how to return to Victoria. She adds that she has joint custody of a daughter with a husband in Vancouver and that BC Ferries is the most affordable means of travelling to and from the mainland for regular visits.
She says that since the pandemic began, most BC Ferries staff have been accommodating of her position.
On the last sailing she took, she says that staff let her and her daughter sit in a back area of the vessel that was well apart from other travellers, something she says was perfect for her position.
"The chief steward treated me with such kindness and hospitality," she told CTV News.
The Vancouver Island woman says that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has called for understanding and kindness when it comes to people with medical exemptions. However, she wants health officials to be more vocal about that position, as she says she faces regular discrimination for being unable to wear a face covering.
"(It’s been) levels of discrimination and hate that I’ve never had to face before as a Canadian," she said.
Phoenix adds that not everyone who does not wear a mask is "anti-mask," and that many may simply have a medical condition like her.
'I’m just a normal person," she said. "I’m a mom, I went to UBC, I studied architecture and I worked with a well-known NGO."
Much of the incident was recorded on Phoenix’s Instagram account. Since then, the video has gone viral and she says she has received an outpouring of support from people across the country.
She says that a BC Ferries employee reached out to her anonymously and said that some staff members have been "power tripping" since COVID-19 safety policies have been put in place.
According to the BC Ferries website, passengers are required to wear masks. However, exceptions can be made for a variety of reasons, including if someone has a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask, provided they have documentation from a healthcare professional.
That policy was instated for all ferry operators across Canada by the federal government earlier this year.