Do a Google image search of recent and current protests from around the world and you'll find a lot of pictures of people hiding their faces -- with the increasingly popular Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask, bandannas wrapped over mouths and noses, ingenuous homemade helmet-like protectors, circus-style painted faces and in various other creative and sometimes scary ways. You'll also see plenty of shots of protesters out in the streets carrying placards, shouting slogans, even confronting law enforcement, without any facial covering whatsoever. What you won't come across is much pictorial proof of either variety of protester operating in Canada.
I tend to agree with Marni Soupcoff that Bill C-309, which makes it illegal in Canada to wear a mask or conceal your identity at a protest, with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, is heavy-handed, and entirely unnecessary given provisions already in the Criminal Code. But I don't share her worry that the new law "threatens to chill the political and social activities of completely innocent people" -- that is, I would be concerned, except since almost no one in Canada ever protests anything, I doubt too many people are going to be affected.
In recent memory, I can think of only three serious, rock-'em-sock-'em demonstrations in Canada: Idle No More, the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver and the G20 protest in Toronto one year earlier. The first, while, granted, a demonstration of some significant mass that caused minor flareups of violence, was almost exclusively a First Nations affair -- non-aboriginal Canadians sympathetic to the cause stood by and watched, for the most part. Vancouver (furthering our proud tradition of rioting after hockey games, win or lose) got out of hand quickly, but also petered out just as quickly. And G20 protests happen wherever the G20 meets -- many of the protesters involved in Toronto were the type that travel from one of these gatherings to the next to stir up trouble. (The Quebec student protests of last year, while sizable, were tame, thankfully.)
It's not as though Canadians are lacking for things to protest about. Just in recent months, there's Rob Ford, the Toronto mayor who is apparently reviled by hundreds of thousands of his constituents; the Conservative Senate scandal, which plays to our deepest fears about money-grubbing, power-hungry politicians; the Ontario Liberals' inexcusable power plant cancellations that cost taxpayers nearly $600 million; and, last week, Quebec's ban of turbans in soccer that insulted our multicultural essence.
All of these -- not to mention upheaval in Turkey and Brazil, or the crisis in Syria (about which Prime Minister Harper at least had the balls to protest Russia's intransigence), or the U.S. spying scandal that has significant ramifications for Canadians -- provide ample reasons for protest. Add to the list your everyday hot-button issues like abortion (which some Conservative MPs want to reopen debate of) and myriad humanitarian crises around the world. And yet not a peep here. The bumbling Ford attracted a measly couple hundred protesters to Toronto city hall for a June 1 rally. None of the other sundry scandals have garnered even that paltry level of demonstration.
Why? I don't think we lack a protest movement because we're not informed -- we've never been more so, and judging by my Facebook feed more people have more to say about more national and international issues and conflicts than ever before. It's just that our national preference (outside Quebec, at least) is to avoid conflict whenever possible. And, I suppose, we've probably become too comfortable, perhaps even lazy, about tackling issues that don't have direct or immediate implications for us.
There's some good about Canadians being that way -- most importantly, it suggests we don't consider our problems to be that bad, and even if we do recognize injustice and unfairness at home and abroad, we also perceive how lucky we are to live where we do, with the freedoms we enjoy. But it's also precisely for that reason that people should get out there at least once in a while to show there do exist some things we won't stand for. Because the only way to keep a $90,000 spending scandal or outright xenophobia masquerading as reasonable accommodation from turning into something much, much darker is to make clear that cheats and haters are unacceptable, here and anywhere.
If you think a law that keeps citizens from wearing masks at demonstrations is unfair, you're right. But that's just going to be the way it is unless you get off your ass and do something about it. If you don't, you have only yourself to blame.
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