Don't Conceal Your Face At Canadian Protests
By Staff News & Analysis - November 02, 2012

Commons approves bill to ban masks during violent protests … It's not a trick – and for would-be masked rioters, it's no treat, either. While tens of thousands of children are putting the final touches on Halloween costumes and masks, the House of Commons has approved a bill banning people from hiding their faces during riots. The private member's legislation, Bill C-309, is the brainchild of Alberta Conservative backbencher Blake Richards … Mr. Richards says it's a response to last year's Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, when often-masked vandals rampaged through the streets after their team's Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins. The bill provides a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of covering their face during a riot or other unlawful assembly. – Globe and Mail

Dominant Social Theme: We're a civil society … let's remain one.

Free-Market Analysis: Yet another erosion of Canadian civil rights. We shouldn't fool ourselves.

It is tempting to think of the positives regarding this bill that mostly revolve around police provocations. There are, for instance, credible reports that Canadian police authorities have dressed up in masks and mimicked "anarchists" in order to provide a pretext for breaking up various demonstrations.

There were accusations following the violent G20 Toronto demonstrations in 2010 that this had occurred. Under this bill, police dressing as rioters would theoretically be exposed if their faces were covered.

But on a larger level the bill is quite disturbing. It is one more adjustment regarding the right of protest and free assembly. True, the bill only comes into effect during a "riot" – but who is to say what is a riot?

Likewise, who is to say what a face-covering is? Canada can be a cold place. A minor jostling can be interpreted as a "riot" and a scarf can be interpreted as a "face covering." The possibilities for abuse are endless. Here's more from the article:

During the Commons debate on the bill, New Democrat MP Charmaine Borg cited civil liberties concerns in opposing the measure.

"I would also like to point out that this bill takes away an individual's right to demonstrate anonymously," she said.

"An individual is not necessarily going to commit a crime just because he or she is wearing a mask at a riot. It is reasonable to think that the person just wants to remain anonymous and protect his or her identity."

Mr. Richards scorned that view.

"Anyone who is wearing a mask or a disguise to conceal his or her face in the midst of a riot is exhibiting aggravating behaviour," he said.

He said law-abiding citizens caught up in violence will naturally tend to want to leave the area.

"It is hard to imagine that others who ignore police instructions to depart the area and who, in addition, continue to linger in the vicinity while wearing a disguise are seized by any innocent motives or good intentions in those kind of circumstances."

The conclusion here is simple. Extenuating circumstances are not an issue. This bill simply adds another layer of restraint when it comes to protests. It will have a chilling effect on anonymity and thus on participation in even peaceful protests.

This is because those who wish to remain anonymous simply won't go for fear that a peaceful protest will turn violent – and they will then be ensnared by this new legislation.

Richards refers to "law abiding" citizens in a speech supporting the legislation. But both Washington and Canada are rolling out tiny drones that can take pictures of protestors. The law combating anonymity can be seen as a clever step toward making drone surveillance even more effective.

After Thoughts

No matter the justification, passing laws that further restrict freedoms when it comes to assembly are not an advance for free speech. Far from it.

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