The Tories have got it wrong again. An Alberta Member of Parliament wants to make it illegal to take part in a riot wearing a mask. As proposed, this is a draconian law. It provides for lengthy sentences and serious fines for wearing a mask to a riot. The only thing the proposed law does not seem to do is understand a riot.
But there is no question that many Canadians will agree with the objective of the bill. There is a clearly Canadian view that people who hide their faces from recognition are up to no good. And to be an effective protester, you have to show your face to be counted. Any police officer observing a peaceful demonstration should immediately be concerned seeing masked persons among the assembly. It is like seeing a masked person going into a bank. An experienced police officer calls for backup.
And Canadian law already has statutes that can cover the situation. Why police are so reluctant to approach a masked person and ask them to give an account of themselves is more to the point than waiting for the riot. Canada’s Riot Act seems better suited to aid rioters than to forestall the riot. The reading of the Act to the would-be rioters gives them 30 minutes to disperse. This is somewhat ridiculous when you realize just how much damage can be done in just 30 minutes.
In the G20 episode in Toronto in 2010, the police were absent without leave during the display of anarchy by a few troublemakers. The pathetic anarchists were the ones who should have been “kettled” (rounded up like cattle) at the event, not innocent citizens who came to gawk at the mayhem.
What fails to make sense is the exception the law’s proposer makes for religious garb such as the Hijab of Muslim women. First of all the Qur’an makes no mention of a mask or veil. Hijab refers to a modest style of dress and the use of veils has to do with tribal customs. Confusing religion and customs causes problems.
By failing to understand the nature of civic disturbance, this law does Canadians a serious disservice. There is little comparison between the Toronto G20 events and the Vancouver riots of the following spring. The Toronto event was a planned display of anarchy (which in itself is an interesting oxymoron). It was designed to take advantage of the situation and the bull-headed police walked into it. If the downtown merchants had any good advice, they would have included the police in their lawsuits for dereliction of duty.
Vancouver was the work of hooligans. It was a spontaneous result of a situation that, again, the police failed to read. There are no worse people to deal with than under-age drunks who think they have the right to be angry about events.
The police leadership are people who rose through the ranks and think they can build walls of uniformed police officers. Today, you have to be part of the mob. You have to find the points at which you can split and redirect its force. They do not recognize that leadership of a mob is fragile. It can be usurped.
It looks like the Harper government is going to pass this bill. Too bad, nobody has taken the time to tell them: ‘first understand, then remedy.’
Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry
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