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.
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.
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