Canada has become the latest country to place restrictions on face coverings during protests- banning all masks last week with the passage of Bill C-309. Those who wear a mask during a demonstration can now face up to 10 years in prison unless given permission for religious or medical reasons.
“The provisions of my bill are effective immediately, which means police officers across Canada now have access to these tools to protect the public from masked rioters,” Conservative MP Blake Richards, who first introduced the bill in 2011, told CBC News.
CBC News reports that the bill passed a third reading in the Senate on May 23 and was proclaimed law during a royal assent ceremony in the Senate last week.
The new law creates a new criminal code offense that makes it illegal to wear a mask or otherwise conceal your identity during a riot or unlawful assembly. Exceptions are permitted for demonstrators who can prove that they have a “lawful excuse” for covering their face, such as religious or medical reasons.
“We can all rest easier tonight knowing our communities have been made safer with its passage,” said Richards.
Masks were frequently worn during the Quebec student movement last year, a mass demonstration that led the government to reverse a decision to raise tuition. Elected officials in Montreal, the epicenter of the student protest movement, banned masked demonstrators last year.
There are already laws in place that ban citizens from committing a crime while disguising their appearance. Civil rights groups, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have questioned the law’s constitutionality.
“I think it is more a symbolic bill than it is a response,” Natalie Des Rosiers, general counsel with the group, said in 2011 when the bill was first introduced. “In our view, it shouldn’t come into law, it has no demonstration of a need for this.”
Although not named directly in the bill, the new legislation has been interpreted by some as a direct assault on those who wear the Guy Fawkes mask, a common sight at major demonstrations around the world, including Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and, more recently, protests in Brazil and Turkey.
Canada’s decision comes on the heels of a decision by Saudi Arabia earlier this year to ban Guy Fawkes masks as a way to suppress pro-democracy uprisings.
Foreign Policy magazine reported in May that the Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior banned the import and sale of the Guy Fawkes masks, which were popularized by the 2005 movie “V for Vendetta.”
The decision was bolstered by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, claiming the mask “instills a culture of violence and extremism” amongst Saudi youth.
Mask bans in Canada and Saudi Arabia follow a similar decision in Bahrain, where a protest movement has been boiling since 2011. The Bahraini monarchy banned the Guy Fawkes masks in February as a means of quelling protests against the monarchy.
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