Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bill would make wearing masks during riots a crime

A private member's bill debated Thursday in Ottawa would make it a crime to cover your face with a mask or other means during a riot.

But it will be at least another month before the bill can move on to committee stage.

The bill by Conservative MP Blake Richards was introduced in the House of Commons last month and was debated for the first time Thursday evening. It seeks to amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to wear a mask, or otherwise disguise or conceal one’s identity during riots or unlawful assemblies.

“When trouble starts, people intent on criminal activity depend on being able to 'mask up' to conceal their faces with bandanas, balaclavas or other means to avoid being identified and being held accountable for their actions,” Richards said in a statement last month when the bill was tabled. “Wearing a mask in these circumstances is an aggravating factor for their behaviour that should be reflected in the law."

Richards said this is a measure that police have asked for and that it would be a new tool for them to help control "unruly mobs" and help identify offenders following a riot.

The Alberta MP's bill exempts people from the bill that have a "lawful excuse" for covering their face. It does not define what a lawful excuse would be under the proposed legislation.

If Richards's bill becomes law, a person found guilty of breaking it could be jailed for five years.

But the bill needs two hours of debate before MPs can vote to send it to committee, the next stage in the process. MPs discussed it for one hour Thursday and it will be another 30 sitting days before the bill comes up for its second hour of debate. That takes the bill into early next year, likely February.

It would then have to make its way through a House of Commons committee, go to a third reading vote in the House, and then repeat the process in the Senate.

The debate on the mask-banning bill comes as protests associated with the Occupy movement ramp up in New York City and across North America.

It also comes as Vancouver police launch a new effort to identify suspects from the riot in June after the Stanley Cup final.

Posters with 104 suspects on them are being distributed throughout the city.

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