The identities of masked rioters have been veiled, and their actions have gone unchecked. All that can change if Bill C-309 is passed in the months to come, making it illegal to don masks during a riot. While the proposed legislation has sparked both ire and praise, there’s nothing controversial about the safety the legislation can provide. It is Alberta MP Blake Richards’ “hope and belief that [his] Bill will protect the public by deterring those intent on inciting riots.”
In the wake of the G-20 protests two years ago, last year’s Stanley Cup riot, and recent student demonstrations in Quebec, the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code is timely and justified. Richards’ private member’s bill addresses the need to curb potential violence during protests. Rioters seeking to vandalize or loot merchandise, incite fear, and cause mayhem during the chaos of unlawful assemblies are aware of the likelihood of their actions being recorded; to avoid being caught and brought to justice, they often conceal their identities. Without Bill C-309, officers are forced to cool their heels until a crime is committed. If Richards’ legislation is passed, law enforcement will be given the authority to preemptively stop persons from committing violent and destructive crimes under the cloak of anonymity.
The Preventing Persons From Concealing Their Identity During Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act has faced sharp criticism from those worried that wearing a mask is reason enough to warrant an arrest during a peaceful assembly. Critics cite the mostly peaceful Occupy movements, where masks were worn not to conceal identities but rather as a medium to express a message. It is an understandable concern that the mask will be labeled criminal in its own right.
But the Bill does not criminalize just any wearing of a mask. Richards does not seek to ban masks during legal assemblies. Instead, the legislation aims to give officers the proactive option to arrest a masked participant in an unlawful assembly or riot. An unlawful assembly is described by the Canadian Criminal Code as an assembly of three or more people who cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear that the peace will be disturbed tumultuously. Bill C-309 is a step toward protecting the right to security while at the same time respecting freedom of expression. Guy Fawkes can stay, but only if he behaves himself.