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Peter Worthington Headshot

Masks Should be Banned from Protests, Period.

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It was Alberta Conservative MP Blake Richards who introduced the private members bill (C-309) which stated that wearing a mask at violent protests is a criminal offence.

While we owe some gratitude to Richards for his initiative, the question remains why it's taken so long for this notion of common sense to become a reality?

After the street protests in Quebec, the Stanley Cup disturbances in Vancouver, and the G20 riots in Toronto, it's alarmingly apparent that those planning to smash windows, vandalize, intimidate and otherwise raise hell, cover their faces so they cannot easily be identified from videos.

It shouldn't be rocket science to realize that making it illegal to wear masks at protests will at least be a bit of a deterrent to illegal or violent behaviour.

As an amendment to the Criminal Code, Bill C-309's alternative title is the unwieldy "Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful
Assemblies Act." (Parliament might consider hiring a new headline writer!)

The weakness in the legislation is that it seems to apply only to those committing illegal acts. To wit: "Every person who commits an offence . . . 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 five years." Since the bill's introduction, the penalty has gone up to 10 years.

Sorry, folks, but that isn't good enough.

I'd argue that any person wearing a mask or disguise at any controversial protest or demonstration, is up to no good, and can be assumed to be contemplating illegal behaviour.

If someone carries a loaded gun while committing a crime, it can be assumed he is willing to use it, hence consequences for the person are graver when he is caught.

Police should not have to wait until a person wearing a mask at a protest does something illegal before arresting him. The mask itself is, or should be, evidence of mischief.

It's not the same thing, but the wearing of the burqa, or face-covering veil, is unacceptable in certain instances. Quebec and other places (Belgium and Holland) have ruled that people applying for government jobs or making demands on government services must reveal their faces.

In Quebec, the niqab and similar face-coverings are banned for those receiving public services in hospitals, schools licensing offices and in courts. That's as it should be.

It strikes most of us as lunacy when someone wearing a burqa applies for a driver's license and refuses to reveal her face for a photograph -- as happened in Florida. The "lunacy" doesn't refer to the burqa-wearer, but to the system that permits it.

During Afghanistan's guerrilla war against Soviet occupation, Western journalists revelled in stories of sneaking into the country disguised in a burqa to join mujahideen fighters. It added a bit of glamour and derring-do to the adventure.

Oddly, some burqa-wearing zealots who raise a fuss about laws against the garment turn out to be women not raised under Islam, but who've converted and (mistakenly) think face-covering is a religious rather than cultural requirement.

There'll be controversy when (if) at some future demonstration or brouhaha, police arrest people wearing masks before they've committed an illegal act. Inevitably, some will test or provoke the system. Just to see what happens.

If so -- so be it. Let's see if the courts will accept that wearing a mask at a protest is an indication of illegal intent, just as carrying a loaded gun is.