Masks banned in Canadian riots, just in time for Anonymous day of action

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Monday November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day.

Expect masks.

The Anonymous-affiliated are planning worldwide protests against government surveillance, as the following video declares:

As always, Anonymous supporters are likely to don masks with the image of their patron saint.

But for the first time, the smiling black and white masks that shield the identity of those protesters will be illegal in Canada (if the protest stops being peaceful).

It's not only the Anonymous-affiliated whose masks will be banned. Canada's House of Commons on Wednesday approved a bill that bans people from hiding their faces at all during riots.

The bill, Bill C-309, was championed by Alberta Conservative Blake Richards, who said it was a response to last year's Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, during which often-masked vandals smashed and lit fire to the city after their team lost to the Boston Bruins.

Violators will be facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted of covering their face during a riot or other "unlawful assembly."

The bill, which doesn't apply to protesters at peaceful demonstrations, passed 153-126.

PETA seal protestorRichards said his aim isn't to quash freedom of expression or peaceful protest. Rather, it's to give police a tool to battle riots that have turned vicious, including those in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto:

"The bottom line is that the perpetrators who are criminalized by this legislation are not lawful protestors. We are not talking about giant pandas, Frosty the Snowman, as some members might suggest, or as members of the media talked about, the PETA seal. I am not looking to criminalize pandas, Frosty the Snowman or seals."

In fact, Richards said, this bill will help peaceful protesters:

"It will ensure that those who come to these events to cause trouble can be brought to justice and discouraged from those kinds of behaviours, so that the people who come to a gathering, for whatever peaceful means, whether it be protest or otherwise, have the ability to do their activities safely and freely."

My initial reaction to banning the anonymity bestowed by a mask is that it restrains individual liberty. But the Canadian legislators certainly have due cause, given that masks have been worn by people intent on, well, violence, destruction and mayhem.

So testified Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, in voicing her support for the bill:

"We watched the television coverage of the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal riots. We saw willful acts of violence. We saw people physically injuring our law enforcement providers, and we also saw the damage it caused to businesses."

There's no doubt that the cited Canadian riots were violent and jeopardized the health and safety of nonviolent protesters, law enforcement personnel and emergency responders, as video and print coverage clearly shows.

To wit:

  • Québécois students in April protested tuition hikes, staging a riot in Montreal in which some set fires, threw rocks and burned pylons.
  • During riots [Video] at the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010, some 200 protesters clad in black masks and clothing used hammers, flag poles, umbrellas, chunks of pavement and mailboxes to smash windows. This violent minority of G20 protesters also set a police cruiser on fire. They ultimately changed into civilian clothes and faded away into the crowd, spectators said.
  • The 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot [Video] involved stabbings, police cruisers aflame, and hundreds treated for tear gas exposure.

Police should have every means possible to protect themselves, citizens and property from violent thugs and vandals such as these.

But masks don't light fires. Thugs wearing masks light fires.

Masks have also been used to protect protesters who've carried out brave, justifiable protests, such as last year's Anonymous Iberoamerica #OpsCartel operation against the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas.

I'm extremely hesitant to come to the conclusion that the Canadian bill to ban masks amounts to oppression, given the violence mask-clad protesters have carried out under cover of anonymity in these riots.

But it's easy, given ever-increasing government surveillance, to fear the worst will be done with images of protesters who don't shield their identities.

Anonymous maskHopefully, Canadian law enforcement will respect the letter and spirit of the law and arrest only those who commit violent crimes.

As far as the Guy Fawkes mask goes, Anonymous members might bear in mind that every sale of the mask profits Time Warner, which owns the rights to the Guy Fawkes "V for Vendetta" image and collects a licensing fee with the sale of each mask.

Perhaps it's better to make one out of recycled paper.

Better by far to protest peacefully behind that homemade mask.

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52 Responses to Masks banned in Canadian riots, just in time for Anonymous day of action

  1. mike · 684 days ago

    As a Canadian, i feel you should protest unmasked. Show the people exactly who you are and the kind of person you are. This isn't Halloween, this is standing up for something you believe in.

    • Machin Shin · 683 days ago

      What if what you believe in is your right to stay anonymous? That is what many people are fighting for. The right to live your life without the government knowing exactly who you are and what you do every minute of your life. If that is what you are standing up for then proudly showing your face is counter to your goals.

      • Brent · 683 days ago

        What if what you believe in is personal freedom?

        The right to do business with companies that Anonymous does not support?
        The right to have a religion or beliefs that Anonymous believes are wrong?
        The right to have an ACCOUNTABLE GOVERNMENT behind punishment rather than an UNACCOUNTABLE force of CYBER TERRORISTS!

        And what about personal liability?
        What anonymous does is ILLEGAL. Are you saying that your "right to stay anonymous" should extend to the commission of crimes? You could likely arrest everyone there and after searching their homes, gather enough evidence of cyber terrorist activities to indite them (of course, it doesn't work that way... but you could.)

        Anonymous is a dangerous group; just because they pledge they're going to be good boys does not mean they SHOULD be granted the same freedoms of good boys.

        So, if anonymous uncovers documents by illegally hacking into a database; people cheer. If the GOVERNMENT uncovers documents by illegally hacking into a citizen, people protest.

        Unethical Hacking is illegal. Out of all the tools the internet has provided Anonymous, THAT is the only one they are good at... breaking the law.

  2. Guest · 684 days ago

    I'd encourage anyone who would consider throwing their lot in in with Anonymous to do a little background research first. Aside from the flashy videos these folks have some pretty nutty ideas. Especially when you get to the parts where they start invoking the Bible.

    Educate yourselves!

  3. noko · 684 days ago

    Why exactly would a peaceful protester need a mask is beyond me. If you truly believe in something you should not be a coward, show your face and stand up for what you believe in. And how do these masks protect peaceful protestors anyways?

    • mishka · 683 days ago

      On many accounts, peaceful demonstrations have gone awry from police 'intervention' or other reasons. Balaclavas or other face protection is handy to have on, or at least nearby in case of tear gas or to protect oneself. Also, many protests can jeopardize a person, especially if they are not 'supposed' to be there for what ever reason. This could be because their company sponsors what the protest is about, or they could be jeopardizing their family or job in another way.

    • Rafal · 683 days ago

      That's not a realistic suggestion, is it? When the state has such extraordinary power to punish, oftentimes the only way to stand up to them is to disguise your identity. Why are the cops allowed to cover their faces and badge numbers? Does the law not apply equally to all members of society? Canada is a joke, the land were civil liberties died a long time ago.

      • Brent · 683 days ago

        Sometimes, when people lack evidence... they CREATE it.
        This initial creation is unfounded, but it causes others to also "create" evidence...

        After a few cycles, enough people believe the fake evidence that they are able to put their practices in the "real world" and create "real" evidence.

        UNFORTUNATELY, this "real evidence" is just as incorrect as the fake evidence; but it harms innocent people in the process. People become willing to believe the "real evidence" demonstrates something it is not and they become more belligerent in creating MORE "real world evidence."

        THIS is what you're describing. A chain of events that is escalating because people keep imagining slights which cause OTHER people to react defensively which you then offer as "PROOF."

        This "war" is a war on government. Nothing more, nothing less.

        *Would be funny if this "war" became world war III, anonymous vs society.

    • p-dawg · 683 days ago

      Because peaceful protesters are often targeted for later retribution by authorities. If they know who you are, they can mess your life up. This is the same reason that anonymous leaflets were printed pre-Revolutionary War. Because when people published them openly, they were targeted by the authorities. If the government was above such things, there wouldn't be any need to protest, now would there?

    • Abe · 681 days ago

      And what if you believe in anonymity? The mask is an affectation of the ideal.

  4. Sage · 684 days ago

    I feel that labeling anyone who wears a Guy Fawkes mask an Anonymous member is way over the top. Anonymous prefers the symbol of a suit with a question mark for a head. THose wearing masks are typically only meme-obsessed people who believe that wearing one will make them cool on the internet.

    • Not · 684 days ago

      Thats completely wrong, the intention of the mask is to give it the appearance of one voice. Its not a intention of hiding what you should understand is, the first anon protest they wore guy fawkes long before memes appeared.

  5. guy · 684 days ago

    But how am I am supposed to look cool and edgy when I'm fighting the man with out my guy fawkes mask. I thought it already was a crime to cover your face for the purpose of committing a crime or something like that.

  6. Ricardo · 684 days ago

    This is definitely a step in the wrong direction. 10 years for wearing a mask? Absolutely tyrannous. I know justice must be done but this is not justice. I don't condone the use of violence, and especially not the destruction of private property but just as well don't condone putting people away for simply wearing a mask to hide their identity. We need trouble makers, people to protest, to stand up for what they believe in, that is: peacefully. If the individual does not feel safe to reveal their face then let them do as they please and conceal themselves. It is not about "government safety" it is about personal freedom and protection. If we keep allowing the government to tell us "how" free we can be we will keep spiraling down in the wrong direction.

    • Alisande · 683 days ago

      Harper's gotta fill those new prisons to make his cronies lots of money... wearing masks and smoking pot is how he'll do it.

  7. TeqxHD · 684 days ago

    Now how on earth would a peaceful protest stop being peaceful, so everyone in a mask can be arrested??.....youtube.com/watch?v=3lP-1Wti3Vs Glad I don't live in Canada

  8. name · 683 days ago

    So let me get this straight. You get 10 years for wearing a mask during a riot, which makes sense because the cops want to identify who is damaging property. But what if people are wearing masks during a peaceful protest? The Guy Fawkes mask is the symbol of an idea as stated in V for Vendetta. Like the movie, Anonymous comes together to utilize the movie's purpose of the mask. The way I see it, this bill will allow the cops to arrest anyone who conceals their identity during any sort of protest, which will in turn lead to the escalation of yet another riot.

  9. Gus · 683 days ago

    The whole idea that you can "regulate" a protest is ridiculous on its surface, it makes a mockery of the intent of protesting. Anyone who spends more than two minutes actually thinking beyond the surface of this argument can see its flaws.

    The only reason a protest carries any political weight is because it shows the population's will extends beyond government reach - that government works for the people, not the other way around. So it makes no difference whether, how, when, or where the law says you're allowed to protest or not - if your cause is worth protesting to you, you will be protesting. And if it isn't, well then you should probably stay home in the first place.

    When government starts creating more reasons to arrest people during protests, they may decrease the number of peaceful protests as more people are afraid, but those people who are afraid will eventually become fed up, and become the kind of people who will turn protests into violent outbursts.

    It seems an entire generation of politicians and bureaucrats skipped all their political science and history classes in school. There are more effective ways to control the people than poking them with sharp sticks like "no-masks" laws.

  10. Jerry · 683 days ago

    How could this legislation possibly go wrong?

  11. kinetik138 · 683 days ago

    This law won't survive its first court challenge.

  12. rftcrusher · 683 days ago

    OH OH . Face recognition software must have gone gold. I agree with the above poster that the mask is a sign of solidarity, No different then the police wearing the same uniform and masks to identify themselves in a crowd.

  13. Maurice · 683 days ago

    Outlawing masks is fine.
    As long as we make it a felony for a police or "peace" officer to hide their identity, not wear their badge, etc.

    As we saw in the G20 riots.

    While we are at it, also make it a federal crime, with a 5 year minimum sentence for police agents to incite riots and be agents provocateur.

  14. bob · 683 days ago

    If this law is in place, then the police should face similar consequence for either hiding faces or obscuring identification badge/'required dept ID information. This is enforceable by eye-witness video reports.

  15. Jaaake · 683 days ago

    I seem to recall this exact thing happening in V for Vendetta.

  16. Freida Gray · 683 days ago

    If their protest is illegal in the first place,what difference would it make whether or not people wore masks?

  17. Den · 683 days ago

    The mask is a people connecting element...

  18. Graphic Equaliser · 683 days ago

    It is stupid to ban masks at demos because Islamic ladies protesting in their veils should also be arrested under the same "laws". My suggestion is don't use the "Anonymous - V for Vendetta" masks, but face-paint them on. Then, you are not wearing a mask, just "make-up". They can't ban people from wearing make-up, can they? Can they? Please tell me they can't, please!!!!!

    • Lisa Vaas · 683 days ago

      No, they're not banning makeup, hijabs, burqas or even masks, for that matter, if the wearer is protesting peacefully. They're criminalizing concealment of identity only when engaging in a riot or other unlawful demonstration.

      • lenoresc28 · 683 days ago

        And you are trusting who? to decide whether or not a "riot" or "other demonstration" is unlawful? Certainly one cannot trust the police to be fair and honest! One has to be very naive and/or complacent to not understand, first, the fact that Canada does not need this law, we already have laws to cover these issues: second, the absurd length of jail time; and third, and most important, that this is a huge infringement on people's rights coming from the same government that is destroying our rights and building jails we don't need. It is not needed for things like a hockey riot instigated by drunken twenty-somethings from the suburbs.
        This "law" is meant to be used against people who have, or will have, the intelligence and courage to fight against the destruction of Canada and the rights of Canadians as we know it by the authoritarian, anti-democratic neo-cons run by Harper.
        This is a frightening and unnecessary law; but if passed it must automatically apply to police.

    • The question would then be: Can face recognition software still make a positive identification if a face is just made up in makeup?

  19. Nunya · 683 days ago

    Oh Canada, expect us!

  20. Scuba Guy · 683 days ago

    Perhaps the government can require mask makers to place MIN (mask identification number) barcodes on the forehead of masks whereupon mask buyers will require a certificate of registration to wear the mask on public roadways. This way the millions spent on video cameras with facial recognition software will not have been wasted.

    Separate legislation could be introduced to mandate yearly mask safety inspections and certificates of insurance in the event mask wearers collide with police agents. The money raised by the courts for expired registrations, insurance or inspection certificate violations would be considerable.

  21. foo · 683 days ago

    The authorities want to be able to identify people who participate in protest assemblies. How then to thwart the law without violating it?

    People have suggested makeup. How about this for irony? Most woman wear makeup, and they look much different without it. What if they showed up not wearing makeup? Could they be accused of hiding their faces because they weren't hiding their faces?

    There are makeup instructional videos on YouTube. What if many women showed up looking like Marilyn Monroe?

    A wig doesn't hide one's face. Would it be legal to show up wearing a multi-colored clown wig?

    What if a man, who is normally closed shaved, grows facial hair in anticipation of a planned protest? Again with irony -- what if a man who normally wears facial hair shaves it off? Could he be charged with uncovering his face to hide his identity?

    I've barely scratched the surface here. Canadians, get creative!

    • Brent · 683 days ago

      Facial Recognition IS that advanced.
      We match BONE STRUCTURE not "skin texture". (And seriously, women don't look "different" with makeup. Their underlying characteristics are not removed.)

      Of course, you could use clay and mold a new face, but then you're actually getting into the illegal realm of intention.

  22. Graphic Equaliser · 683 days ago

    I plucked my eyebrows and put on a little blusher this morning. Have I broken "their law"?

  23. Olestra · 683 days ago

    be nice if the this law applied to the police as well -- nothing to fear 'cause they got nothing to hide, right?

  24. Sister Ethel · 683 days ago

    Interesting, You now can get more jail time for wearing a mask than you do for murder in Canada.

  25. dave · 683 days ago

    Smashing windows and setting things on fire is not protesting. That's rioting. Protesting is where you chant through bullhorns. Until the hoodied douchebag set get clear on this concept, you're going to see more intrusive laws invading everyone's privacy.

  26. Stu · 683 days ago

    As an Canadian, if I have any occassion to wear a mask, I will, irregardless of what His Majesty Stephen Harper dictates...

  27. Harley · 683 days ago

    After Canada has solved all other problems, they can justify 10 years for this? Please tell me how Graham James' crime compares to wearing a mask? Perhaps if he had worn a mask during his sexual assaults, his punishment would have been as severe!

  28. Chuck W · 683 days ago

    In August of 2007, Quebec Provincial Police were caught with rocks in hand, undercover in a peaceful protest, trying to turn the protest into a riot. And they were wearing bandana masks.

    Fix your cops first, then see how the number play out for actual violence resulting from peaceful protesting.

  29. Teagle · 683 days ago

    As usual politicians are sixpence short of a shilling.
    Do they presume that someone who is prepared to break the law by rioting will be worried about wearing a mask whilst doing so?
    Marie Antoinette would have fit in so well in politics these days.

  30. tncdel · 683 days ago

    Think PC Canadians will actually enforce this law against burkha-wearing Muslims too?

    • joe · 197 days ago

      Indeed. I read this stuff and I'm amazed that so few people (only you so far) seem to be making this connection.

      OR, what if it's a Muslim man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and throwing a rock at some cops?

  31. Irving · 683 days ago

    So just how many police will be on scene without masks, faces and badges clearly visible for the purpose of identification?

  32. Telmea · 682 days ago

    Who gets to decide when a peaceful demonstration turns vicious? The cops who score big overtime policing riots?

  33. Tim · 682 days ago

    It's an excuse.
    This gives law enforcement the ammunition they need to quickly wrap up a riot and then make sure that convictions stick in court. No need for evidence other than suspect was seen in a mask.
    Think tax evasion and a prohibition era Mafia boss - Elliot couldn't 'get' him on his actual crimes.
    My dear beloved, fair and democratic commonwealth country suffered from riots of its own but only one side was prosecuted due to lack of evidence. Now we have a plethora of laws enabling our boys in blue to heroically nab those perps.
    Ok so I'm laying it on a bit. It was pointed out to me that commonwealth countries don't actually have freedom of speech. Best we can do is toe-the-line and not rock the boat or turn up in a mask

  34. DFL · 681 days ago

    guess that means cops cant hide their faces either its the law now.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.