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Montreal council axing by-law that bans face-covering at protests

Montreal will move forward with removing bylaw that prevents protestors from wearing masks.

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal, QC
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Montrealers will officially be able to cover their faces with masks or bandanas during protests again, as the city moves forward with scrapping a bylaw prohibiting it.

The bylaw, which was originally put in place 50 years ago as a measure to force demonstrators at protests throughout the city to rally with their faces revealed, allowing police to better identify participants who may be violating other lies, mayor Valerie Plante announced on Wednesday.

During a speaking event to the city’s executive committees, Mayor Plante said that the city’s police are well-equipped enough with the tools of the Criminal Code and the Highway Code to give ample ability to monitor and control public demonstrations.

The bylaw, which originally passed in 1969 as a means to maintain public safety and order, was amended during the Montreal student tuition hike protests in 2012 to include bans on all facial coverings during demonstrations. The bylaw also places obligation on protest organizers to provide city officials with march routes.

Then-opposition Projet Montreal criticized the 2012 amendments, claiming that they were put into place as a reactionary measure to the protests. In the years since those protests, the move to remove the bylaw has been supported by “a serious of court judgments, overturning the amendments as unconstitutional.”

Plante said a motion calling for the elimination of the bylaw will be tabled at the next meeting of city council on Monday.

Montreal’s history of masked protests

The city isn’t prone to masked protestors causing trouble, though. Recent May Day celebrations, a day chosen by communist and socialist groups as International Workers Day, have proven dangerous.

The 2012 protest in downtown Montreal, led by the anti-capitalist group CLAC Montreal (convergence des luttes anti capitalistes: Translation, ‘convergence of anti-capitalist struggles,’) quickly turned into a violent riot in which 108 people arrested and 33 charged, many of them masked.

In 2017, two masked members of the Black Bloc assaulted two Global News journalists, going so far as to announce a call to violence against journalists covering future protests, in order to “make demonstrations safer.”

The group released a post on Montreal Counter-Information titled “No face, no case: in defence of smashing corporate media cameras.”

The post read: “Sometimes, it is necessary to go against what the mainstream considers ‘acceptable,’ to break the law in order to do the ethical thing,” the post read. “Those who mask up to fight the racist far-right have decided, at great personal risk, that they will use any means necessary to shut down fascist organizing.”

A 2019 Anti-capitalist rally in downtown Montreal saw a group of 300 protesters throw smoke bombs and firecrackers, all while smashing windows of businesses on route.

Police arrested five people for what they described as “multiple criminal acts” and handed out multiple tickets for vandalism and mischief, such as breaking windows. Many of these protestors were masked.

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