All right, Mr. Chair, and I know you'll hold me to that.
It is a bit of a unique position to be at this end of the table. It's the first time I've had this opportunity, so thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here today to speak to you all about my private member's bill, Bill . I'd like to spend a little time outlining some of its provisions and some of the outcomes I hope it will achieve.
Over the past few years cities across Canada, from Toronto, to Vancouver, to London, to Montreal, have all fallen victim to violent riots. These events often begin as peaceful demonstrations of one type or the other, and end up being escalated by masked criminals who are hiding in plain sight. The intent of my bill is, first, to be able to prevent these occurrences from happening. Secondly, the bill will help police officers ensure public safety by providing them with tools to prevent, de-escalate, and control riots and unlawful assemblies when they happen. It will also ensure that those who engage in violence and vandalism during such events are more easily identified, charged, and brought to justice.
My bill will achieve all of this by making it a new Criminal Code offence to wear a mask, or to otherwise conceal one's identity when police are working to control an unlawful assembly or riot. Measures that strip criminals of the ability to hide in plain sight in the midst of public disturbances will provide a strong deterrent to engaging in other criminal acts. It will also allow police to intervene and arrest those who wear masks in defiance of the law, defusing tense situations, and ensuring that private citizens and public and private property are protected.
The need for this legislation cannot be overstated. In the G-8 and G-20 demonstrations about two years ago, a breakaway group of violent protestors caused $2.5 million in damage to Toronto businesses and destroyed four police cruisers. Overall, 97 police officers and 39 citizens were injured. In all this chaos only 48 offenders were charged with criminal offences. The riots last year in Vancouver were even worse. Rioters caused at least $3 million in damages to 89 businesses and the City of Vancouver, including the destruction of almost 40 police vehicles.
The investigation that followed, hampered by the difficulty of identifying masked suspects, has cost Vancouver police an estimated $2 million over and above their normal operating costs. Despite the great work of the Vancouver Police Department in identifying 15,000 separate criminal acts, only 85 people have been charged. Despite a heavy media presence, access to closed-circuit television cameras, and a proliferation of mobile devices, many criminals have been able to escape justice for their misdeeds.
Those two instances stand in sharp contrast to the riot at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, in March of this year. This event involved about 1,000 people and caused an estimated $100,000 in damages. I recently spoke to London Police Chief Brad Duncan, who confirmed that rioters there did not actually conceal their identities. As a result, in just over a month London police have already identified and charged 42 individuals with 103 offences.
It's clear that the measures proposed in my bill are sorely needed. I've met with police officers and police chiefs across the country in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Toronto, and elsewhere, and all of them support this bill. They believe that not only will it help police investigate the aftermath of riots, it will also prevent disturbances from becoming so dangerous in the first place.
To quote Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham, who is here with us today:
I welcome any legislation that reduces the potential for violence at public gatherings.... This bill is a meaningful step towards preventing those with violent intent from hiding behind disguises, masks and facial coverings.
Recently we have seen lawful student demonstrations in Montreal turn violent by a small criminal minority who conceal themselves to avoid detection. Police and journalists have been assaulted, stores and other private property have been vandalized, and over 85 people have already been arrested.
Lieutenant Ian Lafrenière of the Montreal police has said to the media that some protestors were using Black Bloc tactics by masking their faces, coordinating as a group, and using weapons they had hidden along the protest route. In fact, Montreal's Mayor Gérald Tremblay directed the city's commission of public safety to examine the issue. They're expected to recommend a law banning the wearing of masks during violent demonstrations.
However, it's not just the police and civil authorities of our major cities who are asking for these measures. As you will hear from many knowledgeable witnesses over the next week or so, the aftermath of a riot can have devastating consequences to the local economy.
You'll be hearing from business leaders in our cities who have been victimized by the actions of rioters and who believe that Bill is a needed piece of legislation to help prevent them from being victimized again in the future.
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association is comprised of member businesses that were hardest hit by the riot in that city, and their members are supporters of my bill.
I will quote their resolution. It reads:
June 15, 2011 is a dark moment in our city's history that traumatized thousands of residents, employees and hard-working business people. The property damage incurred that evening combined with the looting that took place is in the millions of dollars. Vancouver's picture postcard image was sullied by the actions of reckless and irresponsible individuals who have no respect for the laws of our country.
The Building Owners and Managers Association of British Columbia, at their recent board of directors meeting, also endorsed Bill . The Building Owners and Managers Association of B.C. represents over 400 corporate members that own or manage commercial real estate in the province of British Columbia, many of whom suffered loss in the Vancouver riot. In their letter to me advising of their unanimously supported resolution, they say, and I quote:
Downtown Vancouver building owners and business tenants were seriously affected by the June 2011 post hockey riots. We believe this proposed amendment will be a valuable enforcement tool going forward to mitigate damage from any future unlawful acts of violence during riot situations.
I'm aware that some of my colleagues in the opposition have opposed this bill because they believe it would impair a citizen's right to protest. But let me be clear, these measures do no such thing. When a protest or any other public gathering, for that matter, evolves into an unlawful assembly or a riot, it is by definition no longer a charter-protected assembly. It has become a Criminal Code offence to which individuals are subject to sanctions if they choose to participate in it.
In fact, I believe that Bill actually helps to maintain the rights of all citizens to peaceful protest by providing a way to deter or to deal with those who would use the cover of a peaceful assembly to engage in criminal acts.
Bill is a measure that police and law-abiding citizens and businesses have been asking for. It would defend Canadians and their livelihoods from senseless violence while helping maintain the right of all citizens to peaceful protest, which is consistent with our government's commitment to Canadians to protect law-abiding citizens and to keep our communities safe from criminals.
I'm also aware that some of my colleagues have suggested that we should look at harmonizing the penalties in my bill with those that are already existing in the Criminal Code for wearing disguises, under section 351, and I would welcome amendments from the committee to address that concern.
I'd like to close my remarks by urging my colleagues in the opposition parties, who have expressed reservations about the bill, especially those who represent ridings in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto where we've seen these incidents, to listen very closely to what their constituents are saying. The support I have received from citizens of those cities is inspiring.
I also want to sincerely thank the members on both sides who have already voted in support of Bill at second reading.
The true test of their resolve to take a stand against criminals who would assault citizens, vandalize neighbourhoods, and destroy private and public property in their cities will be realized in their vote at final reading. I therefore urge all of you to use your questions to the witnesses to learn about Bill and how it can be an effective tool to prevent such terrible events in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Richards, I've been trying to see how the police would be able to enforce that new legislation, and I'm seeing the same problems will occur with sections 65 and 66. Do you disagree? For the sole purpose that....
Let's take the example of what's happening in Quebec right now. You're talking Montreal. I can talk to you about my riding of Gatineau, because we have the CEGEP where there are some manifestations. We have UQO, the Université du Québec en Outaouais, with the same situation. Most of the students
are protesting peacefully. The students are wearing scarves because they don't want to be photographed by the press, not to hide their identity. Their goal isn't to take part in a riot or unlawful assembly. They simply don't want their pictures taken, which is entirely reasonable. I don't think you would refuse them that right.
At what point can the police say that it's becoming a riot and must ask people to remove their scarves and so on? I have a problem seeing the bill's practical side and whether it truly attains the objective.
During the Vancouver riots following the Stanley Cup final, photographs of people were distributed, but finding those people was difficult. I think this very impractical aspect will complicate the work of the police. We will ask our police forces to determine when it becomes a riot, an unlawful assembly, or if it's free expression on a matter. This won't be obvious.
I appreciate that. That's a great question.
Really, I think there are two main purposes to the bill. In talking with police, I was able to identify that the biggest problem they face in these situations, as I said earlier, is in identifying the people involved. In Vancouver, for example, I recently spoke at a meeting where the police chief, Jim Chu, also spoke that morning. He had brought a presentation with him that showed photographic evidence and video evidence they had gathered from the riots.
With just one frame alone that he put up on his screen he showed, with the prevalence of cell phone cameras, the reasons people need to wear these disguises to engage in these criminal acts during these kinds of activities, because now there's no longer that same kind of cover for them that there would have been prior to those kinds of things existing.
In just one frame alone, there were at least a dozen different people photographing, with their cell phone cameras, an instant where a number of mass rioters were beating an innocent individual. He was on the ground, being beaten. There was all kinds of photographic evidence, but they were not able to bring any of those people to justice because they were masked and disguised.
To get to your question about the main points of my bill, first, it is to try to deter those kinds of events from happening in the first place. Obviously, when people have to think twice about facing penalties for being disguised, they'll think twice about being disguised, and then therefore will think twice about engaging in criminal types of behaviour when they can be identified. With cell phone cameras out there and social media, it's very clear there's a good chance they will be identified for those kinds of behaviours. So first and foremost, the intention of this bill is to really try to deter those kinds of events from ever happening in the first place.
Second of all, it is designed as well as a tool for police to ensure public safety by being able to ensure that those individuals who do engage, despite the consequences, in a criminal act of that type will be brought to justice for their behaviours, because there will be a new provision to allow police to do so.
I think the other aspect of the bill that's important to point out is that it also, I believe very strongly, protects the legitimate right to protest. This is something I have had mentioned to me a few times, in terms of a concern, but I actually believe it's the opposite. I think it does a lot to ensure the right to peacefully and legitimately demonstrate—it's a democratic right we all enjoy in this country. It protects individuals who are looking to be part of a peaceful protest, because it will prevent those who want to infiltrate in order to engage in criminal activity.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Mr. Richards, for your presentation and the initiative.
The intent is certainly laudable, but we do have concerns, as you've already heard. I think it's important to reiterate that this is not just with respect to disguise or masking in riot situations. It would also apply when there is unlawful assembly.
You've made that clear, but I want to make sure that everybody understands that the threshold for what constitutes an unlawful assembly is much lower than the threshold for a riot. If somebody ends up still being around, masked, when something at as low a threshold as an unlawful assembly is going on, that's of even greater concern, from my perspective, from the civil liberties side. I just want to put that on record.
I spoke to some police officers who were involved in the policing in Toronto during the G-20. What they wanted to emphasize was the transition issue. It's all well and good for us to define what constitutes an unlawful assembly or a riot. You've done that well. It's in the code. It's how everybody on site knows that, at a certain point in time, a peaceful demonstration has become either a riot or an unlawful assembly.
They can be large. You can be in one part of a crowd and not know what's going on in another part of the crowd. You could end up being legitimately there for either protest reasons or other reasons, with some kind of facial covering, and not even know that you're now automatically committing an illegal act.
If this provision goes forward, it needs to be amended to include a very clear provision on a reasonable opportunity to disperse after clear notice from the police. Have you given any thought at all to whether we need something along those lines? There is police practice, but it's not written into the Criminal Code.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Richards, for your presentation today. I think you've been really responding to the questions that have been asked of you in an excellent, detailed, and logical way and I very much appreciate that.
I just want to preface my remarks by saying that while I am the first one to defend the right of anyone to wear clothing appropriate to circumstances and according to their beliefs, I don't have any patience for anyone who shows up masked or disguised to any event where it's clear there is illegal conduct going on.
If you are in the midst of an unlawful assembly or a riot, and people are running around with black masks on and doing illegal things, it just does not make sense to me to believe that anyone with an ounce of respect for the law—or intelligence—would disguise themselves so they couldn't be photographed with no other ulterior purpose, so I just don't buy that.
I was interested in your remarks about what happened in Vancouver. Certainly, the fact that there were 15,000 criminal acts identified—I hadn't realized—and that the police were only able to charge 85 people I think is very striking. Many people were I think unjustly and unduly critical of the police because of the time and care they took in their investigation. I know much was written about that and the fact that it took time.
I'd like to ask you this. If your bill had been in place, can you give me some specifics or talk about how it would have helped the police in bringing to justice the perpetrators of these crimes in Vancouver during that riot?
That's a very great question. It's one that I've had officers point out to me in the different cities I visited where they've dealt with these kinds of situations.
What they tell me very clearly is that, in these kinds of situations, there's an element of people—and these are the people who we're looking to deal with in this bill—who are looking to cause trouble. They come to a public gathering knowing that there will be some cover for them to engage in the kinds of criminal acts they're looking to engage in, and they come prepared with a complete tool kit. Certainly you can find sites on the Internet that coach people on how to do this kind of activity. They'll come prepared with the kit, including the disguise. There may be, as I said earlier, marbles to toss under the legs of police horses. There may be bricks or other objects that they'll throw at police, hammers they'll use to break the store windows, and other kinds of tools that they will use.
Police will witness the individuals with their knapsacks. They'll see them putting on disguises. They'll see them with the tools. Then they'll witness these kinds of activities taking place. They'll witness individuals leaving the scene and removing their disguises as they go. If they know that this kind of criminal activity has taken place, they know that likely these individuals were involved in it, but they're not able to actually identify the individuals who committed specific acts.
You specifically mentioned the Vancouver incident. They have video evidence and photographic evidence where they can clearly see these kinds of activities taking place, and they're done by individuals who are disguised, so they're not able to actually lay charges.
I think it comes back again to the police being able to protect public safety, because they've declared the situation to be an unlawful assembly, or they've declared it to be riot. They know that this activity is happening, or is about to happen, and will likely intensify. They can deal with individuals who they see are very clearly gearing up to engage in that kind of trouble, and hopefully what that will do then, of course, is protect the safety of the public and prevent damages to property, prevent damages to businesses, and prevent assaults on individuals by deterring it from ever happening, because these people will think twice about disguising themselves.
That's the first and foremost hope. So that will be the main thing, and then, secondly, it allows the police the opportunity to hopefully be able to lay more charges on those who are involved, because they're actually able to identify them.
Part of your question goes back to the question that Mr. Cotler asked earlier. I'll address that part first.
The bill does provide for lawful excuse. Lawful excuse would apply in the situations you identified. If someone requires a head covering for religious purposes, if someone has a legitimate need to wear medical bandages, which in some way obscures the person's face, those kinds of situations, I think, would certainly apply and could be considered lawful excuse.
With respect to the first part of your question, we're talking about situations where, as I indicated, the Criminal Code defines very clearly that people have reasonable grounds to fear that the peace is going to be disturbed tumultuously, which essentially means they are now afraid to be on the streets of their own city.
If we're talking about a lawful public gathering, often these kinds of events can stem from a lawful public gathering of some type, where individuals have infiltrated a lawful public gathering. Sometimes a very small minority of the group is looking to cause trouble and uses the situation to disturb the peace. Individuals who are there for legitimate peaceful reasons are also going to be afraid and will be looking to flee the area, because they could become victims themselves.
The intention of the bill is hopefully to strengthen the ability to legitimately gather, whether it be for a demonstration or other public gatherings, because it protects the individuals who are gathering for those kinds of purposes. It protects their right to do that. In protecting others, it ensures public safety by protecting individuals who would be assaulted in those kinds of situations and by protecting businesses, which often face the majority of the damage in these situations, whether it be store windows being broken, looting taking place, or stealing of their merchandise. Also, with respect to public property, it protects the taxpayers. Police cars are often torched in these kinds of situations and other public property is damaged.
It protects the public from this kind of criminality. With respect to individuals who are looking to legitimately gather, it protects them from a criminal element that would look to infiltrate those kinds of situations.
Good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity to address you. As the speaker said, my name is Charles Gauthier. I'm the executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, a role I've had for 20 years.
The DVBIA was established in 1990 and represents more than 8,000 businesses within a ninety-block area of downtown Vancouver's peninsula. Some 145,000 employees work downtown, and more than 80,000 people live downtown.
I'm presenting today in my capacity as executive director of the association, in support of private member's Bill .
The DVBIA board of directors voted unanimously at its January 24, 2012, meeting in support of the bill, because it will provide law enforcement officials with an additional tool to arrest individuals who wear a mask or disguise with the intent of committing unlawful acts and seeking to avoid identification. We believe this amendment to the Criminal Code will also serve as a deterrent to would-be rioters.
Vancouver has a rich history of peaceful protests, but it also has a dark side: riots that have cost millions of dollars in property damage and traumatized employees, residence, and business owners.
During my tenure at the DVBIA I have witnessed two riots and a peaceful march that turned into a brief but expensive spree of vandalism and property damage. I do not have a full and complete memory of the June 14, 1994, riot that took place after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. What I do remember, however, is the pain and suffering our members and their employees endured for months afterwards.
Fast forward to the 2010 Winter Olympics, hosted by Vancouver and Whistler. As most of you will likely recall, there was a peaceful protest of thousands of people leading up to the opening ceremonies at B.C. Place Stadium. However, amongst the peaceful protesters was a group of individuals known as Black Bloc, who conceal their identities by dressing in black clothing head to toe. They infiltrate peaceful protests and use the crowd as a shield. Given the right opportunity, with their identity concealed they engage in unlawful acts such as assaulting individuals, committing acts of vandalism, and damaging public and private property. To avoid arrest they scurry like cowards into dark corners, shed their disguise, and then blend in with lawful citizens again.
On this first day of the Winter Olympics, Black Bloc was unable to leave its mark. This was likely due to the size of the crowd and the strong police presence. But on the following day, during a much smaller peaceful demonstration with less police presence, Black Bloc members went on a short but expensive spree of smashing in windows and spray-painting facades of banks, retail outlets, and office buildings, while also terrorizing employees and passersby. Video images of the unlawful acts were captured, including images of the cowards shedding their disguises in laneways.
This was the turning point for the balance of the Winter Games. Public sentiment turned against all types of protest, peaceful or otherwise. There were a few peaceful protests, but they were very small in comparison with those of the opening day ceremonies. Unfortunately, peaceful protesters were taunted and chastised by passersby. Thankfully what people remember most about the games is the friendly crowds that met and celebrated our athletes' victories in the streets of downtown Vancouver.
With the success of the 2010 Winter Games and a renewed confidence that we could celebrate responsibly in public spaces, the city of Vancouver welcomed thousands of people downtown during the Vancouver Canucks 2011 Stanley Cup run to watch the games on a number of large screens in the public realm. West Georgia Street, a major downtown artery, was closed to vehicular traffic to host upwards of 50,000 people each and every night during the playoffs.
As you know, just as game seven of the Stanley Cup finals was coming to an end, a riot started. I was at home watching the game. I thought about heading downtown when news about the riot was announced, but I was advised by many not to. During the course of the evening I watched the event unfold on television. I also responded to calls from the media and City of Vancouver staff, who were on the scene to board up businesses after the police had regained control of the situation after three hours.
The next day I surveyed the damage with my staff, board members, and elected officials. I met with our members who were impacted by the riot. The carnage was extensive. Sixty businesses in the DVBIA area had some type of property damage. Twenty of these businesses had been looted. Estimates of the damages have been reported in the $3 million to $4 million range. The Vancouver Police Department has labelled the night of the riot as the largest crime spree in Vancouver's history, with over 15,000 criminal acts identified.
Employees who were working that night were traumatized by the rampage. Here are some examples of what happened that night.
Department store employees fought off crazed looters by deploying fire extinguishers. The owner of a coffee shop and her employees sought refuge in the restroom while the interior of the business was being destroyed. Employees of another retailer feared that their building was on fire and panic set in. In fact, vehicles parked immediately outside the building were on fire and the smoke entered the building. Employees of another business were prepared to fend off the looters with baseball bats if they breached the doors. Thankfully, the would-be looters left.
Almost 11 months later, and with only one riot conviction, our members are disillusioned and skeptical about the effectiveness of our criminal justice system. There is evidence that on that night there was a core group of instigators who came prepared to incite a riot. They had weapons, incendiaries, and masks and disguises to conceal their identities. The Vancouver Police Department estimates there were hundreds of people masked in various stages or types of masking. It took weeks of computer time to get the exact numbers.
The investigation has cost the Vancouver Police Department hundreds of thousands of dollars to process the video to try to associate the pictures of masked persons to the video of them earlier in the evening without masks. An investigation of a masked offender takes the police hundreds of hours to, in effect, get the mask off.
One retail establishment hit particularly hard by the riot has video showing masked looters coming through its front doors in waves. It is unlikely that the rioters and looters who wore masks or disguises will ever be caught. As a result, they will continue to engage in criminal acts of this nature until our laws change.
As our country's lawmakers you can begin the process of rebuilding the public's confidence in our laws by supporting private member's bill and giving notice to would-be looters, rioters, and criminals that donning a mask, disguise, or other facial covering will be met with the full force of the law. Any and all efforts to further strengthen the laws of our country to mitigate any unlawful public gatherings and demonstrations are welcomed by our association and our members. Our collective wish is that citizens across our country can gather, protest, and celebrate responsibly and lawfully in our public spaces without fear of riots or other unlawful acts occurring.
Thank you. I do, Mr. MacKenzie.
Mr. Charles Gauthier: Hi, Jamie.
Chief Jamie Graham: I'm very pleased to be given this opportunity to share my perspective on Bill . In short, I think this is a progressive, measured, and responsible step towards giving the police agencies the legislative tools we need to uphold the law and maintain public safety.
Having served in the RCMP, as chief constable of the Vancouver Police, and now as chief of the Victoria Police Department, I have personally experienced situations, during my 43-year career, in which this legislation would have been helpful.
Civil disturbances happen from time to time, and I'm sure they will continue to occur. But what is most concerning is when these disturbances become something worse, something more nefarious. Often the disturbance deteriorates into a violent riot because of the actions of a very few people. Indeed, over the past few decades a common pattern has emerged relating to how and why riots occur.
Typically, at a certain point people within protests or assemblies don masks and other facial coverings and begin vandalizing property, hurling objects, and sometimes assaulting police officers and bystanders. Property damage is often significant, and more importantly, people can be hurt or killed. Police agencies are deployed to restore order, but the identification of those committing criminal acts is always a challenge. This is doubly difficult when they wear masks to conceal their identities.
This strategy has been adopted on a global basis among like-minded protesters, who use the same tactics of concealing their identity, committing unlawful acts, and then shedding masks and facial coverings to blend in with the larger group of lawful citizens. In my experience, these ringleaders disguise themselves so that they can conduct their illegal activities in anonymity and with impunity. This legislation would change that in Canada.
It's important to remember that we would not be alone in taking steps to counter these rioting tactics. Many other jurisdictions have implemented legislation that prohibits or limits the use of facial disguises during protests.
New York State recently had its legislation upheld by the courts, which held that the 1965 anti-mask law furthers the important governmental interest of deterring violence and facilitating the apprehension of wrongdoers who seek to hide their identity.
Similarly, the United Kingdom and France passed legislation in 2001 and 2009 respectively to address similar concerns.
I also think it's important to address some of the criticism that exists on this subject. This falls under two broad topics. The first is the criticism that there's already legislation in effect that makes “disguising with intent” an offence under the Criminal Code. The challenge with this offence is that it demands an almost unattainable standard for effective, proactive policing—it requires the crown to prove the intention to commit one or more specific indictable offences. Although that would allow for the arrest of a masked person who participates in a riot once it has started, it does very little to prevent the riot from occurring in the first place.
In contrast, Bill , by creating a specific offence for wearing a mask while taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly, could allow for a pre-emptive arrest under the “about to commit” sections of the Criminal Code when an agitator “masks up”, as we call it. This would help provide proactive arrest authority to remove these instigators before things get out of control.
The second criticism I've been hearing is that there are concerns regarding the wearing of facial coverings for religious or cultural reasons. I firmly believe that this important factor is adequately addressed in the bill itself. It specifically exempts persons with a lawful excuse for having their faces covered, which would clearly apply to the wearing of religious coverings.
I hope my comments today adequately explain my support of this proposed legislation. I do so unequivocally. I firmly believe that this law would have a tremendous deterrent effect on those considering violence as part of an assembly. I also believe it would better enable the police to prevent riots before they occur, which is the desired outcome for police agencies, business owners, governments, and most importantly, the public that we all serve.
You've posed about five different questions. I'll try to cover them.
You ask a lot of these brave young police officers who we put in harm's way to protect us during assemblies. It is not a desirable job for the police. Next to domestic violence calls, these are the calls we don't particularly like to go to.
There are very specific tactics used to try to dissuade riotous behaviour. We'll do whatever you ask us to do. I provide training and equipment to the officers. The government provides the legislative tools.
I am simply suggesting this is one additional tool that I think will be extremely helpful for helping us, first, to deter people who have evil intent, who go to peaceful demonstrations and want to trigger those demonstrations to the next level.
You could leave here today, walk down the street with a mask, and you're quite right, you commit no offence. But the moment you pick up a brick or you pick up a Molotov cocktail or marbles to cripple police horses, my thought is that you commit an offence.
Your colleague might be alongside you with a knapsack full of marbles, full of ink-filled eggs, full of 10 or 15 scarves and masks to provide to his colleagues. This would make that an offence under the preventive measures that we enjoy under the Criminal Code.
Every tool that you can give the police I support. The issue that hasn't been talked about a lot when you talk about the police is issues of discretion. Police officers have the right to use discretion no matter what they face and they do it pretty well on a daily basis. When we see offences take place during riots, traditionally the officers don't intervene immediately because the crowd is so large and the police numbers are usually so small that it's simply dangerous. So they rely on technical expertise, film, personal observations, to gather evidence afterwards to make the necessary arrests.
These kinds of provisions would help deter people, in my view, from that participation in the next level where assemblies become unlawful or riotous.
I'll just state one general concern I have, which is that a specific amendment for a specific problem, from my point of view, should be as specific as possible, especially when there are implications for cherished charter rights and especially when, on the face of it, there is already a provision in the code that seems to address the core examples that Mr. Richards has been giving. So I'm very much hoping that this committee will look closely at whether there's just too much ambiguity. Discretion is valuable and I understand prosecutorial and police discretion is part of our justice system. As much guidance as possible is also valuable, so that's where I'm coming from.
I'm just wondering if I could simply ask three very quick questions. If you could just take note of what they are and then answer them, that would be great, because otherwise we risk my not getting to my key questions.
The first one is the transitional issue that's been brought up, a situation where a person has no reasonable opportunity to disperse. There's not been enough time, maybe kettling or something like that has been used and they can't even get out, or they simply didn't know. It's too big a demonstration or word didn't get to them. From your point of view, if you were an officer on the scene, would you count that kind of situation as a lawful excuse, where people just can't get out after a protest has become either an unlawful assembly or a riot?
The second one.... A person with religious facial covering is one of the examples that keeps getting brought up. Nobody's disputing that it's perfectly lawful. The question I have is this. After a protest has become an unlawful assembly or even a riot—somewhere along the line it's a riot—if that person stays and is wearing a face veil, for example, does that constitute an ongoing lawful excuse? Or has that become unlawful?
The third question is on anonymity. There's some kind of assumption that anonymity is, almost by definition, the problem here—the deliberate anonymity. But I'll give you two examples. Some people worry about state agencies gathering information during lawful assemblies—photography, for example. In our own history we've had documented examples of security services doing that. So sometimes they will actually deliberately be anonymous for that reason. It's a marginal case, but it's a case. Something a little bit more common, I think, is diasporic residents or citizens of this country who are protesting against a repressive regime and know that it does engage in surveillance of peaceful protests, who deliberately want to disguise themselves. Would you agree that both or either of these are examples of lawful excuse?
The fourth one is the question of somebody wearing a mask, putting it on. Or maybe they're just grabbing their scarf, putting it on after something has become a riot and has turned into something where there's tear gas. Is that a lawful excuse?