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Activist Communique: Wearing a mask is now an illegal act during 'tumultuous demonstrations'

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The Canadian government voted to pass private members' bills to ban masks at riots on October 31, 2012.

Bill C-309, passed with the support of Conservative MPs but opposed by the opposition, passed by a vote of 153-126.

"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," said Blake Richards, the MP for Wild Rose, Alberta, who sponsored the bill.

The penalty for wearing a mask at “tumultuous demonstrations” can be 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 an up to ten year 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".

The first reading was on October 3, 2011, just as Occupy Canada demonstrators began to take shape but also obviously impacted by the G20 Summit protests that rocked Toronto in June 2010 and Vancouver's Stanley Cup Riots in 2011. Mainly, it was the consequences of the Stanley Cup riots that spurred the bill forward.

There is already an existing law in Canada entitled "Disguise with Intent" which has already criminalizes the wearing of a disguise while engaging in illegal activities and itself carries a jail sentence up to ten years, but this old bill has a "higher burden of proof" where the state must prove that the individual with their face covered was actually engaging in an illegal act while wearing the disguise or otherwise covering their face.

Bill C-309 on the other hand has a "lower burden of proof" with just intention to commit an illegal act. The new bill if passed would allow the courts to convict -- as an indictable offence -- anyone wearing a mask who has attended a "tumultuous" demonstration even if they have been pre-emptively arrested without any evidence of conspiracy or illegal act.

In response to criticism from the opposition, Richards explained, "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."

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