75-year-old Pembroke, Ont. man kicked out of Staples for not wearing a mask, despite a doctor’s note

PEMBROKE — Rick Powers says he will never be shopping at Staples again.

The 75-year-old went to the office supplies store in Pembroke, Ont. the evening of Oct. 8 to buy a printer.  After entering the store, Powers says he was confronted by an employee for not wearing a mask.

“The guy came over, one of the store people and said you have to wear a mask. I said I don’t wear a mask. He said you’ve got to leave,” recounts Powers. “I was going to go out and I said, whoa just wait a minute, and I showed him my doctor’s letter. The employee called the manager over. He looked at the letter and said ‘I don’t care; we wear masks in here or leave.’ And I left.”

Powers lives by himself in Pembroke and says his closest family is in Ottawa. Powers says he went to the store that day to buy a printer. He needs it to print off his COVID-19 test results in order to visit his wife, who is living with dementia in long-term care.

Powers’ note from his doctor reads as follows, “To whom this may concern, the above person is unable to wear a face covering due to medical reasons.” Powers says he received the note from his doctor after developing breathing problems after multiple surgeries.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy believes notes like these should not be handed out as liberally.

“The percentage of people who actually have a legitimately serious condition, that prevents them from being able to wear a face covering for even short periods of time is very, very small,” said Dr. Sharkawy.

Dr. Sharkawy says in the event one is not able to wear a face mask due to one reason or another, they should at least be wearing a face shield.

“It’s my firm belief that a lot of people are abusing this loophole, perhaps putting pressure on family physicians or others to provide them with exemptions.”

According to one employment lawyer, Staples needed to find a work around for Powers.

“That kind of accommodation, even in the context of COVID, is necessary,” says Alex Lucifero, managing partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP. “Otherwise Staples in this case are discriminating against that client or customer on the basis of their disability.”

“To me that’s disrespecting doctors and it’s disrespecting anyone that has a medical condition,” says Powers.

Sharkawy recommends that anyone unable to wear a face mask use a face shield instead, noting face shields do not cause distress to anybody with breathing issues. If that option is not a possibility, Sharkawy maybe the trip isn’t worth it.

“If you are in a situation where there is absolutely no assistance you can get from family members or friends, or anyone else in your community – and I would argue those situations are probably few and far between – perhaps you shouldn’t be going out and taking liberties.”

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