By Andrew Schopp
Participating in a riot wearing a mask could land you in prison for up to 10 years, according to a private members bill passed in the House of Commons.
Bill C-309, sponsored by Alberta Conservative MP Blake Richards, passed in the House of Commons Wednesday with 153 votes to 126. All but two of the votes in favour of the bill were from the Conservative Party.
“The biggest problem I have with this legislation is that it is already covered under section-350 of the criminal code,” said Leo Russomano, an Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer.
“Having your face masked while committing an indictable offense under 350 of the Criminal Code – this is already covered,” Russumano told Humber News.
C-309 seeks to amend the Criminal Code, to deal out a harsher penalty for those wearing masks during unlawful assembly, which is defined by the Criminal Code as:
“An assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighborhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they will disturb the peace tumultuously.”
Michael Gendron, communications officer for the Canadian Police Association, told Humber News the bill gives police more to work with in a riot situation.
“It’s about giving the tools necessary for our guys (police) in a tough situation. So in this sort of instants it is the specificity of the charge that is preferable,” said Gendron
Critics are concerned that the language of the bill in regard to intent may place people in a situation where they may not be trying to conceal their face but trying to protect themselves during a riot.
“Often times police are heavy handed,” said Russomano, “Just look at the G-20 protest and ‘Adam Nobody’ getting his face kicked in by a police officer and then the use of tear gas in Quebec. There are certainly good reasons to be concerned if they are going to release tear gas in which case you might take a pre-emptive measure and cover your face, and next thing you know you could be caught under this section.”
Gendron said the 10-year sentence is not the focus of the bill.
“You will get somebody who will say some kid is wearing a toque over his mouth to protect from the cold and he could go to jail for 10 years, well common sense dictates that that is never going to happen,” he said. “It seems to be a little bit disingenuous to have a debate over whether a kid wearing a toque is going to get 10 years when there is no crown prosecutor in the country that is going to seek a 10- year sentence for some kid that was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
MP Richards, who was unavailable for comment, told the Toronto Sun public safety is the aim of the bill, which will now go to Senate.
“To have the support of the House, to get the bill through, obviously we’re on the way to where we want to be, which is having the opportunity to better protect public safety,” he said.