Alberta Politics
The author in a homemade anti-virus mask — he’s not any more enthusiastic about wearing this than President Trump is, but he’ll get used to it if he has to (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Virus-blocking masks are part of our future — it’s time to dump Canada’s unconstitutional anti-mask law

Posted on April 06, 2020, 1:02 am
9 mins

Universal adoption of homemade face masks would have huge health and economic benefits in the current global coronavirus pandemic, says a paper published a few days ago by seven Yale professors.

“We estimate that the benefits of each additional cloth mask worn by the public are conservatively in the $3,000-$6,000 (US) range due to their impact in slowing the spread of the virus,” concluded the researchers from The Ivy League university’s School of Management, Institute for Network Science, Department of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases, and School of Public Health.

Masks to prevent the spread of viruses are common in Asia, as in this street scene in Naha City, Okinawa (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“We must both encourage universal mask adoption and deal with the urgent policy priority that front-line health care workers face shortages of personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirators and surgical masks,” they wrote.

An analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the spread of influenza indicates that if 50 per cent of the U.S. population wore masks, transmission would be cut in half, and if 80 per cent did, the virus would be “essentially eliminated.”

So the time, obviously, has come for the Government of Canada to repeal the unneeded and dangerous Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act, which stands in the way of successfully implementing such a common sense policy.

In addition to its infringement of our rights and the fact appropriate restrictions on the use of masks while committing crimes were already in the Criminal Code when the act was passed, this law now also presents a genuine public health threat in the face of rampant COVID-19 infection.

The act was passed in 2013 by the Harper Government as a bit of tough-on-crime virtue signalling at a time suburban voters were growing weary of the Conservatives’ counterproductive austerity and worried about their increasingly obvious hostility to science and sound environmental policy.

The target was supposedly activities like the large student demonstrations in Quebec the previous year and the G20 protests in Toronto the year before that, in which there were a few instances of violence. The large demonstrations presented, however, a much greater political threat to the kind of policies pushed by the Conservatives.

A United Conservative Party staffer photographs public employees protesting UCP policies at the Alberta Legislature on Feb. 27 (Photo: Twitter).

The 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver was also trotted out as an excuse, although very few participants in that violence wore masks.

With his policy emphasis on turning Canada into a petro-state, the foolishness of which is now fully exposed, prime minister Stephen Harper was also doubtless seeking ways to suppress protests against pipeline megaprojects. He may have thought the iniquitous 10-year prison sentences included in the act might just do the trick.

A craven Liberal Party, then still the third party in Parliament and looking to shore up its appeal to soft Conservative voters in places like suburban Toronto and Montreal, went along with the charade. The New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Parliament’s only Green stuck with democratic principles and voted no.

The law was unneeded — Section 351 of the Criminal Code includes the offence of disguise with intent to commit an indictable offence. Inconveniently from the Conservatives’ perspective, however, that law requires prosecutors to prove the masked person intended to commit a crime. In other words, due process.

The Preventing Persons from Concealing Their Identity during Riots and Unlawful Assemblies Act is almost certainly unconstitutional, since it interferes with constitutionally protected fundamental and legal rights and allows authorities to declare legal gatherings illegal and then implement harsh penalties.

And while it includes a throwaway reference supposedly exempting face coverings worn for “lawful excuses,” it fails to define just what those might be. It is far from clear, for example, that legitimate fears of the propensity of Conservative supporters to stalk and harass public opponents of their policies would qualify.

Banff-Airdrie Conservative MP Blake Richards (Photo: Twitter).

Consider the recent activities of a certain Alberta minister if the Crown, or the sight of a United Conservative Party political staff photographing the faces of public employees protesting Kenney Government policies with telephoto lenses at recent political protests in Edmonton if you want legal circumstances in which wearing a face covering in a crowd is reasonable.

Typical of the Harper Government’s sneaky contempt for Parliament, the legislation was snuck in as a private member’s bill by an otherwise undistinguished Conservative MP from Alberta, allowing the government to avoid the scrutiny a government bill would have received.

Blake Richards, the former real estate agent who was MP for Wild Rose at the time (and is now MP for Banff-Airdrie), was once being kicked out of the House of Commons for “excessive heckling.” More recently, he put his signature on the execrable Buffalo Declaration, a 6,000 word separatist screed of astonishing twaddle now largely forgotten as Alberta turns to begging Ottawa for handouts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Saudi oil price war. To give Mr. Richards his due, while others have shut up about this embarrassment, he continues to tweet about it.

Mr. Richards boasted in House of Commons debate that his bill, with its low burden of proof and long prison terms, “would change the stakes dramatically” for protesters. He had the cheek to argue it was needed because police found it inconvenient to have to prove intent to commit a crime under Section 351 of the Code.

In other words, from start to finish the passage of this bill was a dismal performance by almost everyone involved.

But as tends to happen with lousy legislation passed for lousy reasons, that’s all been forgotten while it squats on the books awaiting an opportunity to be misused.

Under normal circumstances, the main perpetrators, the Conservatives, and their enablers, the Liberals, would do nothing — out of malice in the first case and embarrassment in the second.

The extraordinary public health crisis we now face, however, provides an opportunity to achieve two positive goals: to rid ourselves of this dangerous and unneeded law while reducing the harm done by the terrible viral scourge that is sickening and killing Canadians.

As they are now in Asia, our atavistic cultural objections notwithstanding, anti-viral masks are likely to be part of Canadian life going forward. This includes homemade masks that don’t do much to protect the wearer, but protect others from the wearer’s coughs and sneezes.

We need to fix the law to acknowledge that urgent necessity. If it saves us the cost of seeing our tax dollars wasted to defend an unconstitutional law, so much the better.

14 Comments to: Virus-blocking masks are part of our future — it’s time to dump Canada’s unconstitutional anti-mask law

  1. Dave

    April 6th, 2020

    To mask or not to mask, … that is the question these days.

    One of the unintended consequences of our modern sometime over surveillance society is people go to lengths to conseal their identity. This is true in London, Hong Kong, Ottawa and also here.

    Of course governments don’t like that annonymity might embolden protesters, hence excessively restrictive laws to go hand in hand with excessive surveillance.

    However, given current circumstances we have a big dilema, wearing masks is making a big comeback and is becoming more than just fashionable.

    Reply
  2. Abs

    April 6th, 2020

    Mask Makers YYC group on Facebook is free to join for people who can sew masks, and people in Calgary who need them. I hope grocery store workers join, because they are at risk. My grocery store said half their workers did not show up for shifts yesterday. If someone coughs on them, they go into isolation. We all need food, and stores will close if workers get sick. Simple as that. Homemade masks are better than no mask.

    Reply
  3. Rod Adachi

    April 6th, 2020

    It appears that Quebec is the province that has been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Will Quebec now re-think it’s legislation to ban face coverings?

    Reply
  4. Jim

    April 6th, 2020

    Wouldn’t this interfere with facial recognition software? Guess they would have to go back to just tracking cell phones, unless of course somehow people could get a chip. Perhaps use the threat of a global pandemic to only allow those who have taken the vaccine and take a chip to confirm out of their house. But that’s just a crazy conspiracy theory talk never has a government marked its citizens for identification…

    Reply
  5. Murphy

    April 6th, 2020

    Where to start? The approach to this “health crisis” has been absurd from time western media began clucking about the mysterious (inscrutible?) bug in early January. A mind-game has been played ever since. The risk posed by the bug was never scientifically established, and every single report in western media inolves distortion of one sort or another. The CDC in the US lumps confirmed and unconfirmed cases together in their tally of “victims”. Over and over again, in country after country, we find that no distinction is being made between people who die “with the virus” and those who die “from the virus”. Repeatedly, medical experts are stating that the danger from the bug is less than seasonal influenza, and there is no question that the numbers from all countries confirm this. Because the lock-down, isolation mania was implemented before there was any proper scientific study, it’s too late to determine how dangerous the bug would have been had we carried on with normal life while implementing measures to protect the populations most at risk of severe disease.
    Corporate and state-owned media have played a game with regard to protest for decades. A massive lie, shared back and forth between “progressives” and “conservatives” in the US, is the claim that protests stopped the Vietnam War. The war wound down because the US couldn’t defeat their Vietnamese opponents with the resources they were willing to devote to the atrocity. So scratch that score for public protest. Here in Canada, the 2010 G-20 shennanigans represented a massive criminal act against the people by the state. There is no question that the “anarchists” were agents provcateurs, and that the most shocking media images from that whole affair reflected events that were managed by agents of the state. CBC exposed some of the astounding crimnality of law enforcement, but the single piece of investigative work was a film made by Scott Noble, that is literally disappeared from the internet. My point being that no reversal of the trends that produced the 2010 criminality in Toronto occured, nobody went to jail, no police forces were investigated and “broken” in the manner of the Canadian Airborne Regiment or the RUC in Northern Ireland. Literally nothing happened.
    Public protest is not going to sway any of these neoliberal governments, and there is no other kind of government coming down the pike.
    North Americans and most of western Europe enjoyed a period of increased economic privilege after the Second World War because it was necessary to award these privileges to maintain order in the face of the ideological foil in the Soviet Union and the PRC and because of the manpower demands of warfare from the mid-nineteent to the mid-twentieth centuries. There is no such challenge or demand now, and there has been a steady erosion of every sort of privilege afforded in the period from 1945-1975. Neoliberalism has experienced no reversals, because it really is simply a modern spin on rule by absolute power. Protest has never worked, anywhere, to produce long-term change for the position of non-elites. It didn’t work for Wat Tyler and it didn’t work for the Wobblies nearly 600 years later.
    If an entity is perceived to threaten the power of the state, it will be rapidly infiltrated and turned against itself, and this has been observed consistently for over a century, going back at least to the period when British Special Branch was managing their own anarchists and then “catching them in the act”.
    Perhaps the best way to understand this is to recognize that people can live on around 2400 calories per day, and as far as our rulers are concerned, not much more is required by people beyond that. The rest of their obligation to us is to keep us distracted so we don’t bother them too much while they fulfill their special needs for accumulation.
    A false binary has been pushed on us with regard to the bug. Either enthusiastically adopt all of these bizarre “countermeasures” or you’re a wicked and cruel MAGA kook. Nobody seems to have figured out how, given the alleged virulence of this pathogen, humanity will move beyond it. Instead of a population with high numbers of people who have developed immunity, we will continue to suffer outbreaks in vulnerable populations because most of the population is still vulnerable to the bug and thus capable of acquiring and transmitting it. There is no avoiding the fact that at least eighty percent of the population will not suffer severe disease from this thing, and yet the whole world has been turned upside down while the creepiest round of looting, since the destruction and pillaging of the Soviet Union in the nineties, occurs.
    If only we had been able to wear masks, the 2003 protests against the illegal invasion of Iraq would have worked!

    Reply
  6. Lulymay

    April 6th, 2020

    During a pandemic of this nature certain businesses and their employees are designated as “essential”. Given the case of the current one and the learning curve as to how it is spread, wouldn’t you assume that this situation is tantamount to being classified as a “Safety” issue and as such, shouldn’t employers have some responsibility for ensuring their employees are working in a “safe” environment? Just a thought…..

    Reply
  7. Just Me

    April 6th, 2020

    Of course, when something that was unlawful suddenly becomes vital to prevent the spread of the pandemic, I’m not sure if that can be called irony or bad luck? (Bad luck.)

    Reply
  8. Murphy

    April 6th, 2020

    “Journalists” in Canada won’t say “shit” about the rich even if their mouths are full of it, but Europeans occasionally do. These documentaries do a pretty good job of spelling out the problem we really face right now, and it isn’t restrictions on wearing masks.

    “How the rich get richer – money in the world economy | DW Documentary”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6m49vNjEGs

    “Inequality: How Wealth Becomes Power”
    https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/inequality-how-wealth-becomes-power/

    Here’s the most crystalline summary of the mechanisms by which we are continually manipulated by our political structures and both state and corporate media, that I have ever seen. The film’s subject has managed to get the documentary black-listed:
    https://swprs.org/the-magnitsky-act/

    Reply
  9. dave insask

    April 6th, 2020

    Under our practice of making a profit centre out of anything and everything (neo liberalism/conservative) and funneling income to those who already have obscene wealth from working people who never seem able to get ahead financially this will only exacerbate an already bad situation for most of us.

    When will the system work for the benefit of society as a whole instead of obscenely wealthy people only. A government elected by all voters should make it a priority to serve use all.

    Reply
  10. Murphy

    April 6th, 2020

    This system will never work for the benefit of society as a whole. To coin a phrase, such a thing has never been done. Governments are not elected by all voters. They are elected by the people who vote for them. Try to see it their way, though. If you poor people get more money, they have no motivation, and rich people don’t get more money, they will in turn lack motivation. So it’s vital for the poor to remain poor and busy so that the rich can remain rich and busy.

    Reply
  11. Andy M.

    April 6th, 2020

    Oh, the embarrassment for people who live in Airdrie-Cochrane constituency (me included). The private member’s bill preventing face covering that you refer to is the only tangible action ever taken by its craven MP, Blake Richards. And folk in this area just keeping voting him back with 70%plus majorities.

    Reply
  12. Scotty on Denman

    April 6th, 2020

    Thank you for finding the silver-lining opportunity to get rid of a stupid Harper-era law (I think it was also intended to preface the notion that niqabs were associated with crime— “barbaric” ones, at that —a ploy Harper resorted to in his desperate election campaign bid to win one more than only a single majority mandate which, come to think of it, was a silver lining, too).

    However, I must take exception to the notion that masks—cloth, surgical, whatever—do not provide protection for the wearer, usually conveyed by a phrase that wearing such masks is really to protect others from the wearer’s germs. Let me first give my credentials: I spent years in the asbestos abatement business when the liable chill about the once-common building material was so high (indeed, removal of asbestos was a huge financial burden for building managers, particularly in public schools, hospitals and government buildings) that workers’ compensation boards invigilated asbestos removals or encapsulations very strictly (the fibres are so small they behave more like a gas than a solid particle)—which meant that not a single fibre was allowed out of the work area, not in hair or clothes, not in wash-water, not anywhere. We learned everything there is to know about safety and decontamination since the fines for any infraction (there was no tolerance level) were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—I mean, they started there. Thus I know a bit about masks. Quite a bit. What made it different than COVID19 is that an asbestos fibre cannot be killed with a sanitizer, so the protocols were extremely strict.

    If an N-95 mask was found anywhere on site, even in one’s gym bag for use after work, large fines could be levied; the level of sanitation was such that no one could risk making the mistake of thinking an N-95 was adequate anywhere on the site while asbestos work was going on. They are inferior to the required rubber-seal respirators with replaceable filters, half-face at a minimum; for more dangerous jobs we used a full-face with a battery powered impeller to de-fog the inside of the glass; for really dangerous African asbestos, only supplied air or scuba was allowed (no filter is considered safe). When I started hearing narratives about how only N-95s were acceptably safe for COVID19—and surgical masks were said to offer no protection for the wearer—I immediately thought about this confusing and potentially dangerous relativism in comparison with my own experience in the A-busting biz.

    It’s all relative.

    Anything is better than nothing; a muffler, a cowboy bandana, a T-shirt pulled up over the nose is better than nothing. That should be plain. I suspect authorities were worried about allowing people in the initial stage of the pandemic to think they could go about their usual business if they had on a mask, the relatively less protective surgical mask being thus cast as inferior in this play on safety misconceptions. Relatively inferior, yes; inferior to N-95?—well, maybe—to cloth? again, maybe: it all depends on basic sanitation which, if not performed assiduously, renders any mask—an N-95, a full-face rubberized-seal respirator, a diving helmet or a space-walker’s helmet—equally unsafe. It’s this distinction, that is, one of no real distinction between radically different types of masks when proper sanitation is ignored, that authorities probably could not trust the public to appreciate.

    Another factor is authorities needed to convince citizens that the inconvenience of lay-offs and school closings are worth them doing some basic things without fail—that is, they needed to avoid fomenting panic or defiance. Both being inevitable to some extent anyway, the roll-out of info had to include some very judicious mush-information, if not totally misinformation, much of which is predictably walked back as the reality of the pandemic convinces more people to comply with epidemic protocols. Since getting compliance is itself a process, the notions about masks keep changing—not because of any misunderstanding on the authorities’ part, but because of their fear that uncooperativeness or complacency might discredit the similarly slow roll-out of projections as to how long the situation will last and what it will take to get through it. Few people bother to consider what authorities are confronted with in this regard. (BTW, it also includes strategic considerations since any nation in the grips of an epidemic is strategically weak enough for an adversary to consider taking advantage of.)

    Thus we’ve had a number of opinions on masks as the gravity of the situation becomes more apparent—or, conversely, as some citizens continue to spread notions of defiance and crazy deep-state conspiracy theories; the evolution of mask info has been matched to the extent which citizens comply with restrictions and to the capacity of a jurisdiction to deal with infection rates that threaten to overwhelm hospitals, equipment supplies and the availability of qualified healthcare workers.

    To be blunt, a cloth mask protects the wearer thousands of times more (at least) than no mask at all. It’s quite true that it protects others from the wearer’s breath (which might contain infected droplets of exhaled breath), and it’s probably true that it does this better than the cloth mask protects the wearer, but the logic gets lost when cloth masks were, just like surgical masks were initially, condemned outright. I even read screed that said cloth masks actually increase the wearer’s risk of getting infected! Yes, possible, but in situations where any kind of mask would, also. It simply doesn’t follow that if one mask type is relatively safer than another, the relatively inferior one is therefore not protective at all—or worse, that it increases risk.

    Now that’s out of the way, let’s get right down to it. As is well known in medical professions, one of the most likely opportunities to get infected with a microbe is when protective gear is being removed. Thus, regardless of what kind of mask one uses, if the outside of it has protected the wearer from infected droplets, it is also a point of infection, and when it is touched when removing it, it is possible to thence touch the holes on the face (eyes, nose, mouth). This is why authorities are worried about non professionals relying on masks as if it makes them invulnerable. People are so resistant to inconvenience, they unconsciously accept this completely imagined invulnerability—they really, really want to be. But any mask is only as good as the hygiene practiced all around it. I think this might have been a greater concern with respect people who have been wearing masks as a regular after of daily routine long before the outbreak of COVID19. In any case, however, as the virus gets closer to personal experience for everyone—which it will—incorrect notions about the relative safety of masks will be absolutely changed. It’s the timing of the thing, the authorities’ concerns about overwhelming hospitals or fomenting panic or defiance. Ockham would identify the simpler case as correct and dismiss all other complex theories—the kind that attract those who are afraid and don’t know what to do or how to do it.

    I’ve heard cloth masks getting slagged because people are supposed to fiddle with them using contaminated fingers. But this can’t be more so than with any other kind of mask. So why put that out there? Again, look to the fear factor among public health authorities: they don’t want people to think a magic bullet has been found and they can just go back to their usual habits. They especially don’t want to scare people—or rile them to the point of disobedience—by announcing that, for example, they will not be returning to their old way of life anytime soon—or maybe even ever—or that they’ll have to observe emergency protocols for many months instead of “a few weeks”, a time-frame that was commonly suggested at first, but which is long gone now.

    I’ve warned people who wear masks to behave as if they had no mask on at all: stay well back, assume everything, every surface, is contaminated, and respect the safety space others who are at high-risk of dying if they catch COVID19—that is, assume everybody’s high-risk. In addition, be very careful when removing the mask —it doesn’t matter what kind: the outside of it must be assumed contaminated and should be carefully disposed of—or cleaned, if a reusable rubber-seal half- or full-face respirator where the filters (contaminated, naturally) are carefully removed and disposed of before the mask is throughly cleaned. And then the hands that removed it must be cleaned—including everything the hands have touched: the door handle on the car, the steering wheel, the shifter, the door handle to the house, etc. And, if a full face wasn’t being used, droplets might have landed on the forehead or hair. What then? Does it really matter what kind of mask one wears if these vectors aren’t also taken care of?

    Masks have become the icon of this disease—needlessly so, I’m afraid. It’s even in our politics (one partisan criticizes another) and diplomacy (as when tRump tells 3M not to export N-95 masks to Canada). It’s in our demagoguery (as when citizens of Asian descent are attacked for wearing masks in public). And it’s well into our internet truth-shredder. People want an easy solution and authorities don’t want them to think there isn’t one—at least not yet. That’s why the evolution of mask-reputation isn’t done yet.

    Now let me tell you what an expert like me does: I got a close haircut so I can keep it all under my toque. I keep a bottle of 60%+ alcohol hand-sanitizer in my vest pocket—not in my glove-box, not in one of my many coat pockets where I have to fiddle about looking for it, not in my purse (well, in my day they were called “man-bags”) nor at home (I have a few there anyway). I don’t use wipes because they don’t get sanitizer into the wrinkles, scratches, scars and cracks of my skin. When I come out of the grocery store (where most people have long elected not to get too near me) I wash the exposed part of my face with hand-sanitizer and carefully remove and dispose of the mask (if I use a cloth one, it goes into a plastic bag so I can wash it when I get home—then if I have another stop, I put on a clean one). After the groceries are loaded into the trunk, I hand-sanitize everything again soon’s I get behind the wheel. It’s really no biggie, I just do it, listen to a Stompin’ Tom disc, or something.

    It’s so nice to get home, the safe place. So long’s I keep contamination out, I could suck my thumb, rub my eyes and pick my nose all day long until my head caves in and never even get a cold.

    Thus, as long’s you observe easily done sanitation and hygiene, any mask is better than none and probably as good as anyone needs in ordinary life. I mean, the way things were sounding for a while, cloth masks were about to get outlawed—for very poor reasons, too. Stay back, stay home if you can, keep clean and practice good mask hygiene and we’ll get through this; but until they find a vaccine, things will be different out there. We’ll get used to it—it’s early times, yet.

    Good luck to everyone—but, even better: good skill.

    Reply
  13. Just Me

    April 7th, 2020

    Bill 10.

    It’s seem John Carpay is *very* critical of this legislation. So critical this person, who Kenney declared was the equivalent of Rosa Parks, is fearful for the future of democracy.

    When Kenny’s allies become fearful of Kenney, one wonders what the hell is up with this so called new normal?

    Reply

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