A Calgary man has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission over the federal government’s decision to lift mask requirements on airplanes.

The decision, announced Monday, is part of a bundle of changes that come into effect Oct. 1. At that point, travellers will also no longer be required to wear masks on trains, provide proof of vaccination or submit public health information with the ArriveCan app. 

“I was frankly dismayed when I heard the news,” said Dr. David Keegan, a family doctor who has a cardiopulmonary condition. 

Keegan said that while airplanes do have filtration systems, they don’t completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially if people are unmasked. 

He noted people travel for many reasons (he flew to Toronto earlier this year for surgery) and the government has a duty to accommodate those who have disabilities. 

Lifting the mask mandate creates “an environment that is unwelcoming and unaccommodating to people with compromised immune systems, cardiopulmonary conditions, and so on,” he said. 

“So I’m expecting and anticipating that the government will realize the error in this decision and keep the mask mandate in place,” he said. 

In a release issued Monday, the government said it still strongly recommends people wear high-quality, well-fitting masks while travelling. 

Complaint part of broader trend, says expert

Lorian Hardcastle teaches in the departments of law and medicine at the University of Calgary. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor in the faculties of law and medicine at the University of Calgary, sees Keegan’s complaint as part of a broader trend. 

Earlier in the pandemic, most litigation around public health measures argued that these measures were too strict. But Hardcastle said that’s started to change. 

“Since the spring, we’re starting to see cases arguing the opposite — where people are saying that public health measures aren’t strict enough,” said Hardcastle.

She pointed to a recent case involving parents of immunocompromised children who’ve argued that the removal of mask mandates in Alberta schools infringed on their children’s charter rights.

Reasonable accommodation

Hardcastle said human rights law generally requires that service providers — whether they be landlords, shops or airlines — offer their services in a way that doesn’t discriminate against people with disabilities. 

That means they have to provide reasonable accommodations up to a point of “undue hardship,” she said. 

“It’s that tipping point of what accommodations can we ask of those providing services, and when do those accommodations become so onerous they constitute undue hardship,” she said. 

What remains to be seen, she said, is where courts and tribunals decide to draw that line. 

“Hopefully, though, once a few of [these cases] are resolved, that will be helpful for others providing services to then adjust their policies in light of what they see coming out of the case law,” she said.

As for Keegan, he said the human rights commission has acknowledged receipt of his complaint, and he is awaiting next steps.