Just as the ink dried on my first blog post about the issue, Conservative MPs in the House of Commons justice committee have more than thrown their support behind the bill to criminalize wearing a mask at a riot or unlawful protest; they doubled the sentence from 5 to 10 years. Now if you were scared to go out and protest, you better be scared shitless now.
At the end of the day, more than throwing a bunch of innocent twentysomethings in jail at the next G20, World Trade Organization summit or Free Trade Agreement of the Americas conference, Bill C-309 is a shot at the right to protest anonymously. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a panda costume or even a bandana to a protest doesn’t mean you are going out there to raise all hell. Many protesters wear masks or disguises to protect their identity so they don’t get labeled in their future careers. They might just be there to add the all important body to a protest, which will inevitably be judged by its people-count rather than the merit of its message. What about the people going out to stand up for what they believe in and who just might be in the vicinity of a few people in masks? Or they might covering their face from the oh so wonderful tonsil-tickling substance that is teargas.
New Democrat MP Charmaine Borg explains to the House of Commons, that the bill proposed by backbench MP Blake Richards could throw people in jail that don’t deserve it:
“I would also like to point out that this 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.”
And no Allen Iverson we are not talking about violence. As said Francoise Boivin, co-leader of Quebec Solidaire tells the CBC, criticizing Bill C-309 does not mean you support criminals: “Let’s not oversimplify. I don’t want to protect those thugs or those criminals. I just don’t want to arrest innocent people.”
Bill C-309 will pass. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has thrown his support behind it and in a Conservative-controlled Senate it has little chance of being shot down. This is unfortunate, because this legislation could cause some serious issues with protesting and “needs tough scrutiny,” as the Toronto Star accurately proclaims.