ONTD Political

Masked protesters could face jail, fines under Tory MP bill

2:33 am - 05/07/2012
The Harper government is throwing its weight behind a private member's bill that would give police the power to arrest anyone hiding their identity during a riot or unlawful assembly.

Conservative backbencher Blake Richards is proposing penalties of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000 for protesters who wear a mask or disguise.

The bill, Richards said in an interview, is designed to give police more power to prevent the kinds of riots that have caused so much damage, including the current student riots in Quebec, the Stanley Cup riot of last spring in Vancouver and the G20 protests in Toronto two years ago.

"Certainly I've heard of instances where it is legitimate that there might be reasons that someone needs to protest anonymously and this bill certainly still allows for that," said the second-term MP from Airdre, Alta., representing the riding of Wild Rose.

"I think it strengthens the right for peaceful protest. It's only when individuals engage in criminal activity or become violent where this law would apply."

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced Sunday that the Conservative majority formally supports the legislation, meaning it is all but assured of becoming law.

"Destructive and reckless behaviour damages communities and should not be tolerated," Nicholson said in a release.

Richards says the bill will allow police to step in and stopviolence and property damage if a protest turns ugly.

"Primarily I see this as a tool that will be a preventative one, one that will deter these situations from developing or from escalating in the first place," he said.

But some civil libertarians are concerned that the legislation will give police the power to break up peaceful protests, which are frequently filled with people in costumes, masks or even face paint that could be construed as concealing identity under the new law.

The provisions of the legislation specify that it only applies during riots or "unlawful assembly," a legal term in which police deem there to be reasonable grounds to expect a disturbance of the peace.

Françoise Boivin, the NDP justice critic, said the Official Opposition does not have a problem with the "concept" of the bill, but she says police already have the power to arrest and charge people intent on inciting a riot, and of using a mask to commit a crime.

Boivin argued that the additional law may simply muddy the water and give defence lawyers an opportunity to point out inconsistencies between the various statutes.

"We're still not really convinced of that factor, that for police it will be easier [to prevent property damage]," she said.

"What will be a legitimate excuse to cover your faces?"

The bill would create two classes of offence.

Those who incite a riot wearing a mask "without lawful excuse" face an indictable offence with prison terms of up to five years.

For those "who participate in an unlawful assembly while wearing a mask or disguise to conceal identity," the charge could be an indictable offence or a summary offence.

Under the summary offence, penalties range up to six months in jail and fines up to $5,000.


I find this incredibly concerning. I do not trust our government right now, at all.
ceruleanst 7th-May-2012 09:20 am (UTC)
They say "hiding their identity", but they mean "protecting their faces". Police aren't comfortable with the idea of members of the public who could possibly withstand chemical assault unhurt.
phililen3 7th-May-2012 10:30 am (UTC)
People want to protect their identities. Some protests are more than valid and needed. But I also get where the police is coming from. After the last riots in London.... Yeah. Too bad though it is the govt that gets to decide whether a march is legal or not and that sort. I think that this can easily be abused by the govt and the police.
soleiltropiques 7th-May-2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
I would respectfully put forth that in a great many instances, riots occur in large part because of systematic injustices and inequalities. History shows us this: 'poverty breeds discontent'. I am therefore not surprised, for this reason, that the UK had riots: it is quite an unequal society. (Please understand that I do not mean this in a pejorative way, nor am I saying that Canada is any better. The point is though that the UK has wide ranging inequalities -inequalities made worse by a government which has a taken a stance quite far to right.)

Furthermore, in my experience, until and unless well-defined mechanisms are put in place to regulate and police members of law enforcement, these same individuals do have a tendency to abuse the power they are given.

Why? Because they are human beings and what occurs in many so-called 'law-abiding' societies is that individuals who are part of the police have precious little oversight and existing mechanisms frequently fail to hold them accountable for their actions. Add to this a culture which encourages individuals in the police to protect other police regardless of the circumstances and perhaps you see my point. My point being that in several countries, including my own, the mechanisms put in place in order to maintain accountability for the rest of the population are in large part not active or insufficient when it comes to 'policing' members of the police forces.

Which is why such a law is problematic.

JMHO, you understand.

Edited at 2012-05-07 04:19 pm (UTC)
chasingtides 7th-May-2012 11:17 am (UTC)
I'm not hugely surprised (it's been my experience at US protests that those of us with masks are among the 'targets' for police) but it's definitely concerning. Protecting identity (and one's delicate facial structures) is important.
(no subject) - Anonymous
wisdomsawoman 7th-May-2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
I agree with you on that. For me it has been a very hard awakening, that I certainly hope everyone will experience.
romp 7th-May-2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
Yes. I hope people see the damage being done quickly.
runonmoonlight 8th-May-2012 02:12 am (UTC)
Until recently it did not feel like our government was out actively trying to get us. They seemed like they generally wanted to help the population, and not just themselves (note I say, generally, there are always assholes, and no one is perfect). Our current government screamed and whined when they were the official opposition to a minority liberal government that no one knew what they were voting for and that the people really wanted them, tried to act like a majority government when they were the minority government, and now that they have the majority of seats, even though they do not have the majority of the popular vote (which is FUCKED) acts like they are lord over everything.

Quite simply put, it's disgusting.

[The Conservates received 39.6% of the popular vote in the last election, but have over half of the seats in parliament. We need electoral reform, and we need it now]
(no subject) - Anonymous
runonmoonlight 8th-May-2012 05:06 am (UTC)
I'm not saying that we weren't watching out, we just weren't fucking terrified. I think you can still watch your government and hold them accountable without being in that state of fear. It's that a lot of us now are just frankly scared of what they will do next.

I don't think the party I am a card carrying member of is perfect (the NDP's), I did not vote for it's current leader. I sometimes didn't like what the previous leader did, even though I overall loved him. But since they are the party I most identify with, they are who I work with.

I feel like the problem is going to be really, just getting people to realize that they can individually make a difference, and that if they do get up, and start working with everyone else, it becomes massive, and then they do have to listen. It's hard to do that when people have limited time, or don't think of themselves as 'radical', or don't necessarily see how it will affect them.
bib_specialist 7th-May-2012 01:44 pm (UTC)
This is a 21st century version of the British Black Act of 1723: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Act
redstar826 7th-May-2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
I do think there are times when wearing a mask is silly. We had a few folks show up wearing those Guy Fawkes masks to a local occupy rally and the organizers asked them to take them off (we were in no risk of being gassed. There was a total of 1 cop present the entire 2 hours I was there, and he was pretty much just walking around chatting with us and telling us 'just keep your people on the sidewalk and out of traffic and we'll be cool').

HOWEVER, it should not be a legal issue
soleiltropiques 7th-May-2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
My message to Stephen Harper: the police do not need MORE power.

There was such a systematic abuse of police power during the G20 meeting, as well as during the demonstrations in Quebec, that this is obviously yet another attack on democracy and free speech on the part of the Harper government.
yeats 7th-May-2012 04:38 pm (UTC)
i don't know if it's appropriate for me to speculate on this, since i'm not a Muslim woman, but i wonder how this will affect those who wear the niqab...after all the bullshit that went down in Quebec trying to bar them from voting, it wouldn't surprise me if discouraging women who wear the niqab from being active in political protests was a nice little side benefit for bigoted legislators.

Edited at 2012-05-07 04:39 pm (UTC)
soleiltropiques 7th-May-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
Actually, I will state that what was considered/deabted here in Quebec was actually over requiring them to show their face in order to confirm their identity before voting and other situations requiring a verification of one's identity.

Is there islamophobia, and is there racism in general, here in Quebec? Yes, there is. I hate the fact that this does exist. I hate that the PQ and other parties use this racism to further their political ambitions. I certainly won't deny that the timing of this whole effort was politically motivated, since assholes always like to fan certain sentiments in order to mobilize their (asshole) base.

OTOH, I can't deny that I do think requiring women wearing niqab to unveil (in certain restricted conditions, such as before a single female observer) is not unreasonable in certain circumstances, such as before voting.

I guess what bothers me with this comment is that I am myself rather sensitive to English Canadians intimating that Quebecquers (i.e. the French in particular) are fundamentally more racist than anyone else (yes, I'm thinking of people like you, Ms. Jan Wong). I honestly don't think this is true. Having lived for years with English bigotry towards the French and towards ME as a French person, I feel very hurt by this attitude. I'm not saying that this is what you meant, and I don't mean to single you out. I'm just trying to point out how things can be perceived.
yeats 7th-May-2012 09:09 pm (UTC)
fair enough -- i was speaking as an american who had read about the electoral controversy through international media. i'm sorry for offending you.
soleiltropiques 7th-May-2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
I'm not offended -and yours was a valid point. I was pointing out a way in which this did refer back to some sensitive issues for some of us here.

Sorry for the misunderstanding. :)

wisdomsawoman 8th-May-2012 01:35 am (UTC)
I soooo agree with you. And this is something I've had a hard time explaining to English colleagues/other students at my university, because it seems that whatever I say I will be offending them in some way? It's really in the last 2-3 years that I understood the divide between the French-speaking and the English-speaking in Quebec, especially in Montreal. It was a very sad thing to realize: I realized I had my own very "unopen" vision of the place the English language should take in Quebec, and they had their own about the French language. I feel this is something we can never get past, you know? Sorry to burden you with my thoughts haha! I just thought you could understand!
soleiltropiques 8th-May-2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, I completely understand. I've studied in English-language institutions and have many anglophone/English friends. I very quickly came to understand the 'Les deux solitudes' (i.e. the two solitudes) concept. My best friend is anglophone... She now understands that it is not cool to live in this province for many years without learning French. It would be akin to going to live in Germany without ever learning German, or in Russia without ever learning Russian. (She does speak some French, and I pointed out to her ways in which she could improve.)

I do sympathize with new arrivals though -learning a new language is not easy.

And I do agree that the English minority are a fundamental part of this province.
romp 7th-May-2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
This fits the rest of their backward agenda. (Elizabeth May: A devastating first year of Conservative majority rule in Canada

This is frustrating like watching Bush I and II. People asked how much damage could be done in a few years and acted as if it were all just a theoretical discussion. But I think we can see that the US was altered by those years and that's hard to undo.
runonmoonlight 8th-May-2012 04:12 am (UTC)
That is incredibly saddening to see it all laid out like that.

It is a lot easier to destroy than it is to build up. And then as a whole we tend to hold those trying to build up to an impossible standard over those who just want to tear everything apart. But we never realize how complex anything is until we actually do it, so that is part of it. So when we see things not happening as quickly as we'd like, we get frustrated, and then people start calling people ineffective, and why did we vote them in, and blah blah blah, and then we end up with the destroyers in power again.

[The dread that is filling me for when we have to clean up what Ford does in Toronto?]

[edit: and yes, I am apparently calling a vague group of people 'the destroyers' now. I kinda like it, though will need to make sure I keep it out of any sane debate in public (:]

Edited at 2012-05-08 04:32 am (UTC)
iolarah 7th-May-2012 11:23 pm (UTC)
Canada, my Canada, what has become of you?
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