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Catherine Lalonde June 5, 2012
Anarchopanda, the philosophy professor become, in a panda costume, a symbolic figure of the student protests is contesting the constitutional validity of the city of Montreal’s new anti-mask regulation. His challenge will be deposited in the Supreme Court (Cour supérieure) in the next few hours, the Devoir learned.
The city of Montreal’s commission on public security (La Commission de la sécurité publique de la Ville de Montréal) adopted a rule on May 18th obliging protesters to show their faces and produce their itinerary to the police. Montrealers now can’t have their faces covered without “reasonable motive” and, if they want to protest, must inform the SPVM (Service de police de la Ville de Montréal) of their route in advance, under penalty of heavy fines. It’s up to the police officers to determine if the wearing of a mask in a public space is justified or not. This variable application is one of the points that raise the most criticism from jurists.
Anarchopanda – who asked that his anonymity be respected for the few hours that remain before he deposits his request – thinks that this regulation encroaches on his fundamental rights and his freedom of expression. Since May 8th, the professor has participated in approximately ten protests in his bearskin. “The panda costume allows me to do things that I couldn’t do otherwise, like hug police officers, for example,” explained the professor, who met with the Devoir in the company of his lawyers. The costume and the mask help calm the situation. They bring a way of doing things, a particular freedom, and that allows me to express my pacifism.”
Anarchopanda will be represented by Denis Poitras, a lawyer who has been particularly active since the beginning of the student strike. Me Poitras is aiming for a declaration annulling the regulation, and contests the constitutional validity of all of its articles that limit freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Attack on freedoms
Me Poitras points out that Anarchopanda still hasn’t been arrested, even though he was warned at three separate occasions. To his knowledge, no arrest has been made up until now in virtue of the anti-mask regulation. “To protest in a costume now carries a presumption of unlawfulness, and that, its an attack on the freedom to peaceful and protected assembly, an attack on the guaranteed freedoms and fundamental principles of justice,” said the lawyer.
Me Poitras means first and foremost to ask for a suspension of the application of articles pertaining to the obligation to give the route to the SPVM and the necessity of protesting with an uncovered face. If the court supports his argument, these articles will not be applied until the Supreme Court has decided on their legality.
Samuel Bachand is a legal advisor on the case. “The keepers of the peace (l’agent de la paix), who can now decide if there is a reasonable motive or not to wear a mask, find themselves illegally invested with the power to specify the regulation.” For Me Bachand, the fact that protesters without announced routes and certain masks – that of the panda included – have been tolerated since the regulation has entered into effect “feeds a part of the case’s theory concerning the arbitrariness of the law.” In addition, the Court has always been reluctant to give police the role of determining the limits of a law, especially if it affects fundamental rights.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
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