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10 Years in prison for wearing a mask at a public gathering now law in Canada

li-masks-01526983By Meagan Fitzpatrick

A bill that bans the wearing of masks during a riot or unlawful assembly and carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence with a conviction of the offence became law today.

Bill C-309, a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Blake Richards in 2011, passed third reading in the Senate on May 23 and was proclaimed law during a royal assent ceremony in the Senate this afternoon.

Richards, MP for Wild Rose, Alta., said the bill is meant to give police an added tool to prevent lawful protests from becoming violent riots, and that it will help police identify people who engage in vandalism or other illegal acts. The bill is something that police, municipal authorities and businesses hit hard by riots in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and other cities in recent years, were asking for, according to Richards.

“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,” Richards said in a statement being released today.

The bill creates a new Criminal Code offence that makes it illegal to wear a mask or otherwise conceal your identity during a riot or unlawful assembly. Exceptions can be made if someone can prove they have a “lawful excuse” for covering their face such as religious or medical reasons.

The bill originally proposed a penalty of up to five years, but the House of Commons justice committee amended it and doubled the penalty to up to 10 years in prison for committing the offence.

Richards noted in his statement how rare it is for a private member’s bill to become law and said that its final passage is the culmination of two years of work and a lot of consultation with police and business owners.

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