Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act

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Bill C-309
Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act.
Citation Bill C-309
Enacted by House of Commons of Canada
Enacted by Senate of Canada
Date of Royal Assent June 19, 2013
Legislative history
Bill introduced in the House of Commons of Canada Bill C-309
Introduced by MP Blake Richards[2]
First reading October 3, 2011[1]
Second reading February 15, 2012[1]
Third reading November 31, 2012[1]
Conference committee bill passed May 14, 2012[1]
Bill introduced in the Senate of Canada Bill C-309
First reading November 31, 2012
Second reading February 6, 2013
Third reading May 23, 2013
Conference committee bill passed April 25, 2013
Status: Current legislation

Bill C-309 is a private member's bill, criminalising the actions of protesters who cover their faces during tumultuous demonstrations and introducing a five-year prison sentence for the offence,[1] introduced before the Canadian House of Commons in October 2011 during the 41st Parliament. On February 15, 2012, a 190-97 vote confirmed that the bill would enter a second reading and be sent to the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

The proposal was introduced in the context of the 2012 Quebec student protests, and the riots following the 2011 Stanley Cup championship in Vancouver.[2] However, in both circumstances a vast majority present were not wearing masks.

On June 19th, 2013, Bill C-309 became law, banning the wearing of masks during a riot or unlawful assembly, carrying a maximum 10-year prison sentence with a conviction of the offence.[3] The Liberal and Conservative parties voted unanimously in favour of the legislation. The Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and NDP cast 96 votes against the bill.[4]

History and content of the bill[edit]

The bill does not apply to those with "lawful excuse" to conceal their identity and wear masks, such as riot police.

At the time of introduction, there was an existing law in Canada entitled "disguise with intent" which already criminalised the wearing of a disguise during a criminal action with a jail sentence of up to 10 years; but supporters of the bill said it had a "higher burden of proof" that the wearer intended to commit a crime. Richards stated that the new bill lowers the burden of proof necessary for a five-year jail sentence and that he is open to reducing the burden of proof necessary for a 10-year conviction as well.[5][4][6]

The pre-existing law only criminalised the offence of wearing a disguise if one was also either committing a crime, or intending to commit a crime. Richards stated that his bill allows courts to convict Canadians wearing masks at unlawful assemblies or riots, who have been preemptively arrested without evidence of conspiracy or crime.[7]

The bill was meant to grant police the authority to arrest, and courts to convict, anyone who is wearing a mask after there is evidence of rioting, or after police declare a peaceful demonstration to be an "unlawful assembly".[8] Richards has said this will "change the stakes dramatically" in Canadian protests.[8]

Criticisms of the bill[edit]

Protesters in Calgary wearing masks of Stephane Dion.

This law simply gives the police even more power to make mistakes with their use of force — and they make too damn many of them already.

—Dave Goulet, Barry's Bay This Week[7]

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said that the bill contradicts the Constitution of Canada, and expects that it would not survive a constitutional challenge.[5]

Liberal MP Sean Casey said the bill is meant to foster fear among Canadians about their safety.[7] NDP Member of Parliament Charmaine Borg said that the bill "takes away an individual's right to demonstrate anonymously. An individual is not necessarily going to commit a crime just because he or she is wearing a mask at a riot. It is reasonable to think that the person just wants to remain anonymous and protect his or her identity".[4]

Critics agree that commonly one covers her face to avoid photographs being uploaded to the Internet and causing personal or professional problems.[9] Others have pointed out that faces are often covered with kerchiefs in response to police use of chemical-based weapons such as pepper spray and tear gas.[7]

Activist groups have stated that the bill poses a severe threat to the freedom of assembly. In an era where social media brings people together the technologies the government is involved with like facial recognition software and video surveillance are at an all-time high and are actively being used to identify individuals at protests who may not wish to be identified.[9]

Others have criticized that the behaviour one partakes in is the illegal factor and that the act of wearing a mask in and of itself should not be considered a crime even during unlawful assemblies and riots.[10] The bill also gives law enforcement more tools to break up peaceful assemblies like the ones organized by the group Anonymous.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Bill C-309 at LegisInfo". Parliament of Canada. 
  2. ^ a b Fitzpatrick, Meagan (November 17, 2011). "Bill would make wearing masks during riots a crime". CBC News. 
  3. ^ Fitzpatrick, Meagan (2013-06-19). "Wearing a mask at a riot is now a crime". CBC News. Retrieved 2015-04-13. 
  4. ^ a b c "Bill C-309 (Historical)". Open Parliament. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  5. ^ a b "Mask Ban Bill Back Up For Debate By MPs". The Huffington Post. 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  6. ^ "Police chiefs back anti-mask bill". CBC News. November 24, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d Mertl, Steve (2011-11-30). "Alberta Tory MP pushes ahead with bill to outlaw wearing masks during riots". Daily Brew. Yahoo News Canada. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  8. ^ a b "Official Report 48". Parliament of Canada. 2011-11-17. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  9. ^ a b McLaughlin, Christine (2011-12-12). "Bill C-309, Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act". Active History. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  10. ^ "A new Bill (C-309) which makes it illegal to wear a mask during a riot. Isn’t it already illegal to be in a riot?". Investment Watch Blog. 2012-02-08. Retrieved 2014-05-13. 
  11. ^ "Canadian Gov Seeks to Make Masks Illegal". 2012-02-16. Retrieved 2014-05-13.