You've all seen the images. Young hooligans, wandering up and down city streets after a big Stanley Cup hockey game, or anti-something protest and trashing everything in sight. In a raw display of anarchy, they pull hoodies over their heads, cover their faces and begin pulverizing the public realm.
In one Canadian city, the police and city officials say they've had enough. The City of Montreal has announced that by the end of February, it will have enacted a new anti-mask bylaw. The bylaw would prevent anyone from participating in public protests and hiding their identity. Get caught in a protest covering your face, and you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
The bylaw stems from a Montreal police request to provide them with additional tools to help identify vandals when violence breaks out at public gatherings. In a riot that occurred in Montreal a few years back, a number of young men were caught on video damaging property. However, arresting them became difficult due to the fact that almost every one of them had covered their face to hide their identity.
Now if you're wondering if the new bylaw will inadvertently scoop up women of Muslim faith, or Montrealers bundling up from the cold behind their scarves, you have nothing to worry about. According to city officials, the bylaw will be flexible enough to exempt certain categories of individuals.
What is unclear is whether this bylaw will stand up to any kind of constitutional challenge. Similar concealment bylaws appear to have already been passed in Quebec City, Trois Rivieres and Copenhagen, Denmark. It is not known whether other major cities like Toronto or Vancouver will follow suit.
In 1845, New York City passed its own Mask Law. Although it was intended for a very different audience, it had the effect of banning people from concealing their face in public. In doing research for this piece, we stumbled upon some interesting analysis from L.M. Bogad,
a Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at the University of Birmingham in the UK an Associate Professor at the University of California at Davis.
Bogad outlines how the Mask Law was used to arrest some individuals participating in a peaceful labour demonstration. Of particular interest is how one street performer was arrested because he was dressed up as Superbarrio - The Hero of the neighbourhood. It's definitely worth a read if you want to get a different perspective on this issue.