The “Canada bans masks” law that makes it a serious felony to wear a mask during an unlawful assembly is now Canadian law. Conviction can carry a prison sentence of as much as ten years.
According to a CBC report, Bill C-309 was proclaimed law during a ceremony in the Canadian Senate Wednesday. The debated and rather controversial measure is effective immediately.
The bill was introduced by Conservative MP Blake Richards in 2011, who said that cities hard-hit by rioters in recent years had demanded the new law. “[P]olice officers across Canada now have access to these tools to protect the public from masked rioters,” Richards said.
People who can prove they have a medical or religious reason for wearing a mask will be exempt from the law. However, protestors who wear the popular Guy Fawkes masks often worn by members of Anonymous could now be prosecuted for the offense.
Before the law was passed, there was no federal legislation to stop people from wearing masks at demonstrations. Richards believes that protestors are more likely to behave themselves and remain peaceful if their faces — and their identities — are visible.
However, a Canadian civil rights group, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, has stated that the new law violates Canadian privacy law.
Policy director Michael Vonn told CBC:
“There’s a problem, of course, with privacy. It suggests you have to make your face, your identity known when you participate in public demonstrations.”
Even Reddit posters are concerned with the chilling effects of Canada’s new law against wearing the masks. Some people believe that they could lose their jobs if their bosses learned they participated in protests.
Claimed a poster called JKilla77: “Sadly qualifying for unlawful assembly as easy as pie now. You just have to take a step into an non-designated area and you qualify!”
Another poster called Hubris2 expanded on that statement:
“The police can proclaim any assembly they like to be unlawful, and there aren’t many restrictions or rules about them doing so….as this would limit their ability to maintain order.
“This means the moment there is any protest that isn’t wanted….it takes 1 agent provocateur to cause an act of vandalism, the police can proclaim the assembly as unlawful and demand everybody leave immediately. If anyone remains, they must either not take any action to hide their identity (so there can be easy surveillance to identify everyone present) or if anyone does choose to hide their identity those people can be assumed to be rioters and thus the police will engage a riot response.”
Are these fears justified?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section about Canada’s new ban on masks.
[protestors wearing masks photo by Vincent Diamonte via Flickr and Creative Commons]