By Alexandra Zakreski
#FollowFriday is an opportunity for CJFE to showcase Canadian individuals and groups doing important work in the field of free expression. Please note that certain follow recommendations are not wholesale endorsements of all of an individual’s or organization’s positions.
Bill C-309 is a private member’s bill entitled the “Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act.” Bill C-309 became law on June 19, 2013. This amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada makes it illegal to conceal one’s identity or wear a mask during an unlawful protest and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
This law is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is left to the police to decide what constitutes an “unlawful assembly.” As a result, other protesters may not even realize that they are participating in a protest that has been deemed illegal. Furthermore, some people conceal their identities in protests so as to avoid retribution from employers or colleagues who may not approve of their views.
Bill C-309 threatens free expression by placing restrictions on freedom of assembly and the protective option of anonymity; such restrictions discourage people from engaging in legitimate protests for fear that they will face jail time at the whim of a police officer. Considering the abuses of police power in Canadian protest situations that have occurred in the recent past, this is a legitimate concern. Those interested in learning more about the fight against Bill C-309 should check out the following Twitter accounts:
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
BCCLA has spoken out against Bill C-309, with Executive Director Josh Paterson arguing that “costumes and masks are lawful and they can be a powerful aid to unpopular speech.”
Follow BCCLA on Twitter @bccla
Anarchopanda, or Julien Villeneuve, was the unofficial mascot of the 2012 student protests in Montréal. Dressed in a panda costume, Villeneuve has since moved on to challenge the arrests and fining of fellow protesters and is currently fighting the Montréal equivalent of Bill C-309, P-6, in court.
Follow Anarchopanda on Twitter @Anarchopanda
Blake Richards is the Conservative MP for Wild Rose, Alberta who put forth Bill C-309. Richards stated that peaceful demonstrates are often “escalated by masked criminals who are hiding in plain sight,” arguing that the wearing of masks in unlawful assemblies are a matter of public safety. He welcomed the finalization of the law two weeks ago with the assurance that “we can all rest easier tonight knowing our communities have been made safer with its passage.”
Follow Blake Richards on Twitter @BlakeRichardsMP
Anonymous is an international “hacktivist” network that has multiple goals, among them greater government transparency, decreased government control and censorship of the Internet, and the right to protest. The group spoke out against Bill C-309 and its potential stifling effect on protest movements.