05/10/2012 01:20 EDT | Updated 07/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Conservative Mask Bill Doubles Punishment For Disguised Protesters


OTTAWA - Conservative MPs have agreed to impose a maximum 10-year prison term on protesters who wear masks during a riot.

A proposed private members' bill would make it a crime for protesters to wear a mask or disguise while participating in a riot or unlawful assembly, and this week the Harper government put its weight behind the legislation.

The Conservative majority on a House of Commons committee that's examining the bill took matters a step further Thursday by doubling the proposed maximum prison term to 10 years from five.

Government MPs passed the amendment over the objections of the NDP opposition, who argue the bill is a sham because wearing a mask to commit a crime is already an offence under the Criminal Code.

Blake Richards, the Conservative backbencher who proposed the new legislation, unwittingly reinforced the NDP argument when he explained why the maximum penalty was doubled at committee.

Richards noted that section 351 of the Criminal Code already carries a 10-year maximum "for a wearing a mask through the commission of an indictable offence."

"It's a harmonization of the existing sections," of the code, Richards said of Thursday's amendment.

"We don't want to have two different types of penalties for two very similar offences in the Criminal Code."

Richards had previously said he sees the mask law for protesters as being mainly preventive in nature, allowing police to step in and arrest masked participants before protests spiral out of control.

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