Cosmetics now an essential item in Manitoba public health orders

Cosmetics are now included on the list of essential items allowed to be sold in-person in Manitoba, but a Winnipeg advocate says previous rules that forbid their sale reveal harmful gaps in government decision-making.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s acting deputy chief public health officer, confirmed Tuesday cosmetics are on the list of products deemed essential under provincial public health orders. They were officially added to the list of essential items then.

“When we initially didn’t have cosmetics added to the list, some facilities or some retailers were providing that as a essential item simply because a lot of cosmetics also have some medical ingredients in it,” Atwal said during a news conference.

“We wanted to just make sure that it was a level playing field for everyone, And so we added to that list, to make sure that everyone was aware that it is part of that list.”

But Lara Rae, a Winnipeg advocate who wrote to the province urging it to make the change, says the omission is a revealing example of who does — and doesn’t — get a voice at the table for government decision-making.

“I’m very pleased that they kind of bowed to public pressure,” Rae said in an interview with host Faith Fundal on CBC Manitoba’s Up to Speed on Tuesday.

“But at the same time, I think it is yet another example of how the [elected officials] are really living on a different planet than the vast majority of the people, especially the people I deal with, working in social services in our city.”

‘Sweeping generalizations’ about what’s essential

Cosmetics are essential to many people, said Rae, herself included. Rae is a transgender woman, and makeup is one of the ways she chooses to express her gender in public.

“When I am misgendered, it has a tremendous amount of psychological impact on my esteem,” she said, adding it can also be dangerous for trans and non-binary people to be unable to appear in a certain way in public.

Cosmetics are also important for the mental health of people experiencing some forms of anxiety, she said, or living with some medical conditions.

Lara Rae says decisions on what’s essential and non-essential don’t represent the needs of the broader community. (Lara Rae/Supplied)

Before they were deemed essential, cosmetics could only be purchased online or for curbside pickup — but those methods are less accessible to Winnipeggers who don’t have credit cards, Rae said.

“If none of those people are in the room, then you have to express a certain amount of empathy to how other people, unlike yourself, might react to a prohibition or a ban on something,” she said. 

Rae pointed to other amended omissions in the essential items list, such as gift cards, which were initially deemed non-essential and therefore not allowed to be sold in stores. They were later added to the list, following concerns raised by advocates that the omission was a barrier to online shopping for some people without credit cards.

“You just have these sweeping generalizations [in policy],” Rae said Tuesday. “And then, basically, the government has to be reminded that, you know, white males are not the default position for many of the people living in this province.”

In addition to a lack of representation, the omissions and amendments show a lack of planning by government, Rae said.

“These are completely arbitrary decisions, and they’re fast decisions — they’re the worst kind of decisions,” she said.

“They’re decisions made in haste, because proper planning wasn’t done, and they’re the decisions that caused the most conflict and tension and animosity.”

Public health orders are open to review, a provincial government spokesperson said in a statement. “As Dr. Roussin has mentioned in the daily briefings, we are always reviewing the orders and revising where needed,” the statement said.

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