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Protesters Who Wear Masks Could Spend 10 Years in Jail

Protesters Who Wear Masks Could Spend 10 Years in Jail

Spending a decade in prison just for wearing a mask seems like a joke, but it’s a frightening reality for Canadian protesters. This past summer, Canada passed new legislation stipulating that dissenters who don a mask could face up to ten years in jail, an unreasonable consequence for such a non-offense.

Chalk it up to Canada’s ongoing draconian laws to discourage protesting. Though Canada guarantees the right to assemble and dissent, the government learned what that actually means when put into practice beyond a symbolic display. A massive student movement protesting tuition hikes did not fizzle out like most protests, so the government responded by instituting curfews, heightening fines and inventing arbitrary laws like this mask rule in order to discourage protesting without officially forbidding it.

To receive a sentence of up to ten years, masked protesters must also be participating in an “illegal protest.” Unfortunately, by definition, almost all protests, including peaceful ones, are deemed illegal by Canadian law. To be considered “legal,” protesters must first submit a protest itinerary to and receive approval from law enforcement. Seeking permission from authorities to protest seems to not only defeat the purpose, but also undermines the idea that protesting is a constitutional right.

In recent years, masks, particularly Guy Fawkes masks (popularized in the film V for Vendetta) have become staples at protests internationally. From Tunisia to Thailand to Brazil to Japan, these masks make their way to all corners of the earth to stand as a symbol of opposing tyranny.

However, just like the Canadian government, other countries’ authorities are similarly cracking down on masked protesters. Canada’s laws may carry the steepest consequences, but Germany also makes it illegal for striking workers to wear masks. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates has banned Guy Fawkes masks altogether. Presumably frightened by the mask’s symbolism in other nations’ respective Arab Spring actions, UAE has deemed the mask both insulting to its country and a symbol that may incite riots. “We urge citizens to celebrate using other symbols such as national flags,” said a police spokesperson.

The United States criminalizes masks, as well. In 2011, when police were looking for “legal” excuses to arrest protesters for their participating in Occupy Wall Street, they reached all the way back to an archaic 1845 law forbidding masks. During demonstrations, police plucked multiple mask-wearing people from the crowd, many of whom were understandably unaware that this infraction could be considered a crime in the first place.

Given that exceptions to such petty laws are generally granted in cases of political speech, it seemed like these mask arrests would go away. However, when OWS protestors celebrated the movement’s second anniversary last week, the problem resurfaced. Though the event was both peaceful and smaller than past protests, police officers still used the standby to arrest three mask-wearers, likely just to exert their authority.

While many assume the attacks on masked demonstrators are an arbitrary way for the government to legally target protesters, others see the crackdown as more nefarious. Given the current surveillance state and the police’s omnipresence at all political protests, the government may feel it important to keep tabs on which citizens oppose its policies. Since masks would obscure a protester’s identity, they’ve sneakily made it illegal to wear them.

If the government is as corrupt as protesters allege, that’s all the more reason protesters should be able to disguise their identity to protect from authoritative repercussions. “Free speech” is hardly free when the powers that be can intimidate citizens from expressing their viewpoints.

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Photo Credit: Loz Pycock

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165 comments

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3:44AM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

Le Canada est en train de devenir allergique à tout ce qui cache. Pourtant, plusieurs des politiciens de ce pays ont beaucoup de choses à cacher. Trouvez l'erreur !

10:29AM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

T I think that the idea behind the punishment , is to prevent the costly vandalism that occurs often instigated by "perpetual protesters:" who travel from city to city fomenting the crowds.They , are nothing more than thugs who should be identified and put on a watch list , and be held accountable. !!! When people are injured and public property is destroyed, then there must be consequences,

12:31AM PDT on Oct 17, 2013

A solution is for many protestors to wear the mask the same time... There is a similar law in Greece, but since many people wear masks, police can not arrest thousands... So the law stay on papers, unless few people make the mistake... :)

9:59AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

Mark D......Who says he's from USA......Yes, we have a seal hunt that most Canadians hate....you have your own "atrocities" such as the wolf kill and your navy testing things in waters that kill dolphins and whales......that aside, your country is going to hell in a handbasket very quickly, your education standards suck, the GOP are fighting health care for millions, and right now folks are going hungry..
As for this thread, if someone wants to protest, I'm all for it.....the masks often indicate there may be trouble as has happened in Canada causing millions of $ in taxpayers money and ruining businesses....Clean up your country first....BTW, I don't care for Harper either and certainly didn't vote for him

9:44AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

Just single out the massive torture bloodbath of seal pups that Harper is peddling from his dark satanic hole shows EXACTLY what kind of psychopath Harper really is. If he wasn't in office he would be the first criminal waiting on death row. This monster is not satisfied with destroying Canada's environment, forests and wildlife, Harper and his gang of insane "ministers" are attacking the future of our world. If he had his way, every child on earth would be choking in his filthy tar sands, and there wouldn't be an animal or tree left on earth.

9:38AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

Harper is an abomination, an environment destroying, human rights crushing global terrorist. He has turned Canada into one of the world's worst nightmares

2:51PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

Tom y.
So sorry...

2:46PM PDT on Oct 8, 2013

To Tony Y. (If he ever comes back to this topic.)
Calling to attention the similarities between the nazi regime and the conservative of Canada is not silly. It is an educated interpretation of political tactics. It's been ten years. The signs were clear. We have gone from an education of thinker to one of technician. It always precedes the education of solider just before passing to a military state. Rights of protest have been taken one by one of different group so to as never provoke a full scale revolt. Silly laws have been passed with less and less media coverage so that full bills like what we have now may be passed in indifference. As for Harper, he was voted out. He also illegally came back by tricking the last election with robo-calls.
Now instead of negotiating with others parties, he leave for "vacation". Those are, somewhat transformed by culture and time, the exact means used by Hitler to rise to power and impose his facist state. Anyone to state the contrary is simply not knowledgable enough of world history. Or not attentive enough to what is going on. Canada is taking its present political maneuvers from the third reich and Staline. All in hypocrisy... It may be even worse in Québec were have the right to two layers of this stuff. I have lived through corruption. Beleive me, I know.

5:34AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

So, do you have the right to protest or do you not? Technically, you do, but since you need to provide an itinerary of what you are protesting, and get it approved before your protest is deemed legal, does this not defeat the whole purpose of freedom to protest?

1:28AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

Ten years for a mask it too bad. However, saying no to wearing masks is important. People who wear masks, specially V masks when they walk for a cause, do so in order to commit vandalism in safe. It happens here in Brazil too. They love this V mask that has a terrible meaing. Sorry but I can't say these people with masks are innocent. They are not. Wearing masks during carnival is also not accepted here. Unfortunately people would hide theri faces to commit all kinds of crimes.

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