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Dear man with no mask on the streetcar,

What are you thinking? I am genuinely curious. What is going through your head as you sit there uncovered, wearing nothing on your face but a pair of sunglasses and a casual expression?

You must know that Toronto, like much of Central Canada, is seeing a surge in new COVID-19 cases. You must know that health officials are asking residents to don masks in indoor public spaces. You must know that the Toronto Transit Commission requires everyone who rides its subways, buses and streetcars to wear a mask at all times. There are lots of signs and announcements to underline the point.

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Yet there you sit, your arm slung over the empty seat beside you. Unlike some of the needy people who ride the TTC, you show no signs of a mental disturbance that might impair your understanding of the rules. You are neatly dressed in a polo shirt and shorts. I’d guess you are about 40 years old, far past careless youth.

So why do you refuse to do what every other person on the streetcar is doing and wear a mask? Is it because you think you are invulnerable? You might be wrong about that. A million people have now died around the globe from the coronavirus. Most people in Canada recover, and the death rate has slowed since the early days, but the virus is still very much among us. It spreads through the air, especially in enclosed spaces. You are riding in an enclosed space.

Is it because you are sick of all the COVID-19 rules and restrictions? Who isn’t? But is it really such a bother to slip on a cloth or paper mask while you travel on a public-transit vehicle? Millions of Canadians mask up every day without complaint. How are you different?

Is it because you think that masks do no good? On what grounds? Authorities all across the country, and the world, are saying masks can help slow the spread of the virus. The chief public health officers of Canada, Ontario and Toronto recommend them. What makes you think you know better?

Is it because you think the government has no place telling you what to do? How far would you take that? I am assuming you stop at red lights, wear a seatbelt and renew your driving licence. You may even pay your taxes. If you obey most of the rules during ordinary times, why would you refuse during an international emergency? Are you saying that being instructed to wear a mask is such a grave violation of your fundamental freedoms that you are willing to endanger yourself and your fellow passengers to assert them?

In which case you have no idea what rights and freedoms are. Freedom means the right to question and challenge the rules, not flout them. It doesn’t mean the right to act just as you please, even if it means hurting other people. If you really feel that the mask rule is oppressing you, write your MP, wave a placard or join one of those anti-mask groups. Don’t get on the streetcar unmasked and put us all at risk. This is the wrong time to express your rugged individualism.

Or maybe this is not a matter of principle at all. Maybe you simply don’t care. There are always people like you out there. The woman in a hurry who weaves wildly in and out of highway traffic because she doesn’t care about the safety of other drivers. The man who runs his power tools first thing because he doesn’t care that it wakes the whole neighbourhood. The queue jumper, the transit-fare cheater, the litterbug. If so, there is probably not much the rest of us can do.

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But I wish you would at least consider the special situation we are in. The coronavirus thrives through contact among people. Beating it means minimizing that contact when it is possible and, when it is not possible, taking a few simple measures to make the contact less dangerous: washing your hands, keeping your distance, wearing your mask. In other words, it means having at least a trace of simple consideration for others. It may have escaped your notice, but on this streetcar along with you as it passes through the streets of downtown Toronto are an old man with a shopping cart and a pregnant young woman.

So, please, spend just a minute of your time thinking of them instead of yourself. And next time you ride the streetcar, put on your damned mask.

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