Opponents warn mask ban would give police too much power

Masked protesters stood outside of Montreal city hall on Wednesday as public hearings inside debated a controversial bylaw that could make it illegal to wear a mask during demonstrations.

With fines of $500 to $3,000, the bylaw is set for a vote on Friday, only one week after it was first tabled. Being sped through city hall, the bylaw will avoid the months of debate typically held for a proposal of its magnitude.

Unhappy with the change and claiming that their rights are at risk, the masked protesters were kept away from the city’s politicians by the Montreal police.

“We want to show that wearing a mask isn’t that bad and it doesn’t imply that we are going to break everything,” said a mask-shielded protester, a part of the Rabbit Crew that has been seen at student demonstrations over the past week.

Fed up with the number of protests held in Montreal this spring, the administration of Mayor Gerald Tremblay is hoping that the law would serve as a chilling effect and encourage protesters to stay home.

“If a group of black youth is holding a meeting against police profiling they aren’t going to call the police to say that they are having this meeting,” said Dominique Peschard, speaking for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “They will be liable under the bylaw, even if they commit no criminal acts.”

Peschard noted one of the proposed bylaw’s more contentious parts: all protest organizers would be required to file a notice with the Montreal police.

The Quebec Bar Association joined the CCLA, echoing its concern that the bylaw would give the police too much power and could be used for profiling purposes.

“The concern is that both Bill C-309 and Montreal’s bylaw will give police free reign to arrest anyone wearing a mask,” said Andrew Lokan, a lawyer and external council to the CCLA.

C-309 is a private members bill in the House of Commons that could regulate the wearing of masks at protests across Canada. The bill could become federal law within months.

Twenty people were on hand Wednesday at city hall, most feared that the mask ban would create more violence, not less.

“We have to protect the public’s security, we have to protect our owners, we have to protect the public. This bylaw is directed against vandals,” said Claude Turdel, a member of the mayor’s executive committee.

“Why do you have to wear a mask?”