Woman with breathing hole in neck booted from bingo hall for not using coronavirus face mask

A 67-year-old woman battling lung cancer was turned away from a bingo hall in Ontario after she showed up without a mask or covering for a hole in her neck that helps her breathe.

Elaine Arbeau was asked to leave Delta Bingo Pickering and was escorted out by an employee because the hole in her neck was uncovered, her son Bj Gilbert wrote in a Facebook post.

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“She explained that was impossible to do so,” Gilbert wrote. “That’s how she breathes.”

Gilbert said his mom was “beside herself and floored” by the establishment’s decision, which requires masks or face coverings to prevent against the spread of coronavirus.

Arbeau, who her son said was looking forward to playing bingo or going to a casino with her friends after COVID-19 restrictions began to ease after six months of lockdown, feels that she was discriminated against because of her physical disability.

Non-medical masks are mandatory in the Durham Region within commercial establishments, though there are some exceptions.  For instance, if a mask “inhibits a person’s ability to breathe in any way” they are not required.

Arbeau tried to go to the casino again Saturday but was turned away once more, her son said.

She recorded her interaction with casino staff, and employees on the video can be heard telling Arbeau the bingo hall is private property and they can “mandate any rules that they want.”

Due to her breathing hole, which makes speaking difficult, Arbeau struggles to tell the employee that she thinks she has a right to be there. But she is still denied entry.

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“What they did was wrong,” Gilbert told CTV News Toronto. “The hole can’t be covered because that’s how she breathes, she doesn’t breathe through her mouth or nose.

“If you cover it, you might as well take away someone’s life support.”

Delta Bingo CEO Cam Johnston told the network that he will take a “hard look” at the case but said people who can’t wear masks shouldn’t be visiting their establishment at this time.

“I’ll make a judgment shortly,” Johnston said. “But we would prefer that people who are unable to wear masks do not attend. I think it’s best for them.”

Johnston said he empathizes with Arbeau but said safety has to be his “number one priority at this time.”

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“We’re trying to protect everyone but my first concern and first obligation is the health and safety of all our customers and staff,” he said.