Montreal city councillors voted today to approve a city-wide bylaw that bans the wearing of masks at public protests in a vote that passed 33-25.
The ban on wearing masks comes into effect tomorrow as thousands of students took to the streets tonight to protest the ban and the new bylaw by the Quebec General Assembly that severely restricts the rights of demonstrators in the province.
"When a cause is just, why is it necessary to hide behind a mask?" Mayor Gérald Tremblay quipped at a news conference after the vote.
The new bylaw also forces activist-organizers to submit an itinerary of planned protests to the Montreal police eight hours in advance whether they are requesting a permit or not -- including time, location, route and transportation. Twitter later reported that phone lines to different police stations in Montreal were jammed with people trying to report in concerning future demonstrations.
According to rabble.ca, "Details of Bill 78 were unveiled late Thursday and debated in a special, overnight session of Quebec's National Assembly. They include a ban on demonstrations within 50 meters of a post-secondary institution and severe financial penalties on students or teachers and their organizations if they picket or otherwise protest in a manner declared "illegal." Demonstrations of ten or more people must submit their intended route of march to police eight hours in advance.
Essentially making most future student demonstrations illegal and now the banning of masks has only aggravated the striking students in the street, which I'm sure is the opposite effect the Liberal Charest government had in mind.
When critics of the new bylaw questioned lawyers representing the Montreal police over fears the bylaw went too far in restricting students' right to protest which could go against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they seemed equally surly.
Anti-Trembly City Councillor, Louise Harel, questioned whether people wearing scarves or bandanas to protect themselves from police chemical weapons would still be considered breaking the law, the lawyer responded that "if tear gas is being deployed, the demonstration has already been declared illegal."
This Montreal bylaw falls in line with a private Members Bill -- Bill C-309 -- that is currently moving through Parliament that will make it illegal for demonstrators to cover their faces during "tumultuous demonstrations" across Canada with a penalty of up to ten years in prison.
Bill C-309, first introduced before the House of Commons last year, would amend the Criminal Code of Canada and impose a ten year prison sentence for anyone convicted of the offence and make such an act an indictable offence. A "tumultuous demonstration" could be defined as a "riot" or an "unlawful assembly."
So far tonight, marching Quebec students are ignoring the bylaw -- including the Anarcho-Panda -- so we will see how the police respond.
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