Hide your face – go to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200

Bill C-309 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (concealment of identity), also known as The Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act, has completed third reading in the Senate and will soon be signed, sealed, and delivered.

 1. This Act may be cited as the Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act.

2. Section 65 of the Criminal Code is re-numbered as subsection 65(1) and amended by adding the following:

(2) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.

3. Section 66 of the Act is renumbered as subsection 66(1) and amended by adding the following:

(2) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

This  Act is ostensibly aimed at the instigators of riots, and if it is only ever used for that purpose it seems quite reasonable. However, the line between a peaceful gathering and one that is not so peaceful, is not necessarily distinct. Nor is the line always clear between instigator, participant, and onlooker. For example, some of the Occupy Protests began quite quietly and were turned violent only after the police moved in. If any protestors had been on site and keeping their identities from employers, they could be charged under this new law.  In some instances, onlookers were rounded up by police even though they had no connection to the protestors.

Sports fans often paint their faces to support their team, and post game celebrations sometimes turn violent. I agree that the instigators of the violence should be prosecuted, but how possible is it that others may end up being prosecuted merely for being on the street.

Sometimes, masks are part of the point of the protest. These examples are not necessarily Canadian, no do I necessarily agree with the sentiments, but the masks are an important part of the message.

Siemens employees protesting job cuts.

If any of the gatherings that these people are attending become, in the eyes of the police, violent, they could be imprisoned for up to 10 years for concealing their identity. That is on top of any penalty they would receive for the violence itself. On top of that, there have been situations where police have been accused of instigating the violence themselves.

After the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto, 90 police officers were disciplined for removing their badges so they could not be identified individually while they meted out a  rough form of justice. Apparently, each of the 90 acted without knowledge of the others. Disciplinary actions are ongoing, but 10 year sentences are highly unlikely.

Freedom of Assembly is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

However, it seems that our government is not particularly interested in living up to the ideals in that charter.

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2 Responses to Hide your face – go to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200

  1. Ian Crawford says:

    The bill would not apply to those with “lawful excuse” to conceal their identity and wear masks, such as riot police.

  2. What’s important for the committee to recall is that Bill C-309 is not changing the fundamental operation of either of those offences. Rather, it concerns what penalty is to be imposed when a person who has committed one of those offences is also wearing a mask to conceal his or her identity without lawful excuse.

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