by: Joe Martino
The rise of the people is an undeniable happening across the globe as hundreds of millions have taken to the streets over the past few years to stand up for what they are not happy with throughout the world. With these protests comes bullhorns, signs, masks, costumes and more creative ways that protesters use to make their point. But a new Canadian law (Bill C-309) now forbids people from wearing any mask or face covering face during a riot or so-called “unlawful assembly.” While it is difficult to determine how the law defines this type of protest exactly, it is clear on the fact that non abiders can receive a maximum of 10 years in prison if they are convicted of concealing their identity.
Although the new law does allow exceptions for those who are able to prove they have a “lawful excuse” for concealing their face, such as religious or medical purpose, that person may also be subject to charges for participating in an unlawful assembly. The law is greeted by some but opposed by others. While conservative lawmakers greeted the idea with pleasure, privacy advocates and civil libertarians are not so keen on the bill and haven’t been since it began making its rounds. They believe the bill uses vague language like the “lawful excuse” exception which leaves major questions unanswered.
Natalie Des Rogers, general counsel with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association states “I think it is a more symbolic bill than it is a response.. In our view, it shouldn’t come into law, there is no demonstrable need for this.”
“You cannot have a limit that is not prescribed by law, that is not clear to the citizens.We have the right to know what is expected of us. When there is vague language in the context where it infringes a freedom prescribed by the Charter, it becomes an unreasonable limit.”
What is causing more nervousness for people is the ever extending power of the police as this newly approved bill also expands police authority into unlawful assemblies. Canadian law defines an unlawful assembly as a party of three or more people who “disturb the peace tumultuously” or “needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.” Another vague definition that is open to argument and can be misused by police as it was during the G20; regardless of the type of protests that went on during the event. The G20 was perhaps the most abusive display of power Canadian police have used on citizens in a very long time. With the whole world watching, people witnessed the true nature of a police state when elitists are in town.
Is this another bill aimed at creating fear behind the apparent uncontrollable citizen? Are people being discouraged in various ways to participate in protest? Regardless of the answer, it appears as though the clamp continues to tighten on citizens as the global unrest continues. In my opinion, the focus should be on maintaining an ethical response from police during these events which by far has been of the largest concern when it comes to recent events. One look at the G20 here in Toronto answers that question rather quickly.