With all the protesting going on these days, Montreal has become a veritable political theatre for all manner of agitprop and self-expression. Of course, no anti-whatever rally would be complete, these days, without the requisite Guy Fawkes masks, bandanas worn as masks, balaclavas (aka ski masks), etc. What do all of these things have in common? Wearing them may soon be a criminal offense punishable by jail time (up to 5 years!).
I hear you shouting what the fuck is he blathering on about this time? Maybe you haven’t heard about Harper’s latest attempt to curb your freedoms with Bill C-309, a needless, excessive, overly vague new amendment to the criminal code being proposed by Alberta MP Blake Richards? Lest you think that this is yet another authoritarian measure originating from Canada’s favourite quasi-American state (props to our right wing Albertan comrades for resisting the siren song of Daniel Smith in the last election), consider that Mayor Tremblay is thinking about a very similar bylaw (for the second time since 2009) that would also make the wearing of a mask an offense at protests in Montreal.
Obviously this is an idea that, as the kids like to say, has gone viral. So may I propose my usual unbiased (Ha ha!) legal analysis on the subject? Firstly, the bill in its first reading stage of the House of Commons, would change the law to make the wearing of a mask during a riot, whether actively participating or not, guilty of “disguise with intent” and could face a rather heavy punishment. Unless they have a ‘lawful excuse,” that is. Only the law doesn’t define what this might be.
Could this law be used by unscrupulous police to pick up people in Halloween costumes or wearing a niqab, for example? Thus far, the government isn’t saying. The worst part is, the current laws already treats wearing a “disguise with intent” to commit a crime, for example robbery, as a criminal offense.
As for the Mayor of Montreal’s planned bylaw, he’s already lined up various law and order types to support his initiative, including Yves Francoeur (President of La Fraternité des Policiers et Policières du Québec) who made this ludicrous statement on the matter (my translation): ‘We don’t need to preserve anonymity in a free and democratic society like ours!”
Really!? What about whistle blowers and witnesses under police protection, Monsieur Francoeur? At the risk of getting carried away, this is seriously disturbing mentality. When you combine this type of thinking with the other legal measures taken by the Harper government (especially C-30’s privacy violating provisions), you get a legal climate in which our privacy is increasingly under threat.
Anonymity is an integral part of our constitutional right to privacy. The famous Montreal-based human rights lawyer Julius Grey believes that the authorities behind these proposals haven’t thought them through and that they won’t hold up in court. He says that if people that are in the closet or fearful of public scrutiny aren’t allowed to mask themselves at public events, they are likely to think twice about participating. In effect, then, these measures limit their freedom of self-expression and right to peaceful assembly.
* Photo by Phyllis Papoulias