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MPs Pass A Bill To Ban Masks At Riots, Making It Illegal For People To Hide Their Faces
November 1, 2012
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With the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy dominating the news of late, this story has been a bit overshadowed.

MPs in the House of Commons have passed a private members' bill to ban masks at riots, making it illegal for people to hide their faces.

The bill (Bill C-309) was put forward by Conservative backbencher Blake Richards, the MP for Wild Rose, Alberta.

mps-pass-bill-to-ban-masks-at-riots-making-it-illegal-for-people-to-hide-their-faces-to-conceal-their-identity-feature2.jpg He says it's a response to what happened in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final last year, when a number of people wearing masks rioted in the downtown.

Richards says he wanted to give police another tool to go after people who are rioting, and trying to hide their identity.

"They have individuals coming to gatherings of various types and looking to cause trouble and they come with a toolkit. They've got a bag, they've got a mask, they've got a disguise, black clothing, they've got hammers to break windows, objects to throw at the police, things to start fires with," he told reporters yesterday on Parliament Hill.

"It's those individuals that police need this tool to protect the public from."

Under the bill, there is a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of covering their face during a riot or other unlawful assembly.

Riots are declared by city officials. An unlawful assembly is considered a gathering that causes fear.

The bill will not apply to people attending peaceful protests or demonstrations. There's also a "lawful excuse" clause to protect people who cover their faces for religious or cultural reasons.

The bill passed by a 153-126 margin, with government MPs in support and the opposition NDP and Liberals against it.

mps-pass-bill-to-ban-masks-at-riots-making-it-illegal-for-people-to-hide-their-faces-to-conceal-their-identity-feature5.jpg NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says the police already have all the tools they need.

"It's a game that the Conservatives keep playing. We look at it, we realize what they're up to, this is part of their so-called 'law and order' agenda - it's nothing of the sort. It's just constant sops to their Reform party base - we're going to vote against it," Mulcair said.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae echoed that saying, "I don't like the way the government keeps using private member's bills to put forward their own agenda. "

"I think people have to understand that sometimes these efforts by individual backbenchers to micro-manage every conceivable situation is not necessarily the way to write a Criminal Code," Rae said.

"Let's not pretend the criminal law is somehow completely unable to deal with these kinds of situations."

Rae also says the bill isn't well thought out.

"I don't think people understand the implications that it has - when does wearing a toque low on your face become a mask?" Rae said. "Are we going to ban people from appearing in a protest because they are wearing a burka? Are we going to say that on a cold day that people can't wear a mask?"

mps-pass-bill-to-ban-masks-at-riots-making-it-illegal-for-people-to-hide-their-faces-to-conceal-their-identity-feature6.jpg Richards says that argument doesn't hold water.

"Bill C-309 would not criminalize the actions of anyone who wears a mask or a costume of any type that might possibly conceal their identity while they're engaged in lawful protest, marches, gatherings -- Halloween, for example," Richards said.

"The bill would actually, I believe, strengthen and protect the right to lawful assembly and expresssion by protecting those individuals involved in lawful assemblies."

Richards says he's had support from police chiefs in Toronto, Calgary and Victoria, as well as business groups in cities such as Vancouver.

mps-pass-bill-to-ban-masks-at-riots-making-it-illegal-for-people-to-hide-their-faces-to-conceal-their-identity-feature1.jpg As of this past September, Vancouver police have recommended 872 charges related to the Stanley Cup riots, against 275 people.

An independent review of the riot blamed it largely on "thugs and villains" but said police underestimated the number of drunken fans who would show up.

Under the criminal code, it's already illegal to wear a disguise when committing an indictable, or more serious, offence, which includes rioting.

However, unlawful protests don't fall under the current law because they're classified as a summary conviction - a less serious offence.


MPs also passed another private members' bill (Bill C-217) that brings in tough penalties for vandalizing war memorials.

The bill, tabled by Conservative MP David Tilson, passed with all but the NDP supporting it.

Under the bill, prosecutors could charging vandals with an indictable offence as well as a summary offence.

It also brings in a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence and a minimum jail sentence of 14 days for a second offence.

Any offences beyond that would have a minimum sentence of 30 days. However, a suspect was convicted of an indictable offence, the sentence could be as much as 10 years.

The maximum sentence for a summary conviction would be 18 months.

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