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Fiddler Ashley MacIsaac on masked protest (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Fiddler Ashley MacIsaac on masked protest (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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Fiddler Ashley MacIsaac on masked protest Add to ...

Multiple Juno Award-winning fiddler Ashley MacIsaac’s latest CD is Crossover. He will be playing at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Dec. 9 and at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse on Dec. 15.

The House of Commons recently approved a bill, now before the Senate, that makes it a crime to wear a mask at an “unlawful assembly” – a legal protest threatening to turn violent or dangerous. Isn’t it already illegal to wear a mask during the commission of a crime? Is this a necessary law, a good law?

Yes. Perfect. Wonderful. I hate the fact that Stephen Harper keeps doing things that, every so often, I can’t say anything wrong about. Vic Toews, when he was the justice minister, did some things I thought were outlandish. I agree with the security that is required for the participants and, in that case, I agree with the police’s right to make certain they know how to make a place that is more secure. The best way to know who’s in front of you is to see them. And the idea that you can’t see somebody who’s protesting compounds the security issues. All the participants who were there before it was unlawful are now put in a more dangerous position.

For the safety of all the other people, I think it makes sense, because I’m all for the ability to protest. That’s the greatest freedom we have. But anybody who wants to safely protest who’s in the company of people who aren’t willing to expose their face, aren’t willing to with stand up for the protest in the same way, are endangered.

Have you ever been in a protest or demonstration?

I haven’t been in a demonstration as part of the demonstration. I’ve been on the outskirts watching them, because I’ve travelled to a lot of cities where lots of things have happened.

Were you ever masked?

I would never do such a thing.

In a free society, transparency is valued. If you have a cause you believe in, shouldn’t you have the conviction to identify yourself openly?

Transparency is really not it. You have the right to go online and anonymously do things. You can anonymously call in a radio host and say something and give a fake name. There are all kinds of ways where you can do things that are anonymous. But when you’re in a place where there are other people who should have that free right to protest, the idea of making it more dangerous for them by making it more difficult for the police to deal with is not fair.

Safe, free protests are what protests should be about. When it’s not that, it can be wrong on both sides. The police can get heavy and the protesters can be heavy and either side I don’t agree with.

Is it a right to wear a mask whenever we feel like it?

No, not at all. You don’t have the right to wear a mask going into a bank. Certain things are obvious. I don’t think, for the average person, it’s necessary.

In Canada, in winter, people bundle up with tuques and scarves and balaclavas, covering their faces. What constitutes a “mask”?

If you don’t have the eyes or the nose and the mouth showing. You’d have to have at least two out of the three before you could distinguish somebody.

In the heat of an unlawful assembly, who’s going to sit down and adjudicate what portion of the face is unacceptably or illegally covered?

That’s my point. Police don’t have time, in the flash of a gunshot, to choose. Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with the law.

Shouldn’t the law cut both ways? Should the police be legally obligated to have their faces uncovered and their identity badges in plain sight?

Nope. Nope. We hire, as Canadians, police to protect us. I’m a big [believer] in the law being there for you when you need it. I may be misguided. I’ve dealt with six police [officers] pulling their guns to my head at one time, assuming I was in a stolen vehicle that I’d just bought six miles down the road.

I take the side of the police when it comes to protest. When it comes to enacting the law. When it comes to protecting citizens. If I didn’t, then I’d be that guy who gets angry when the police say to me, “Sorry, it’s unlawful. You have to leave.” [Who] jumps up and down waving his fists and, about 30 seconds later, is down on the ground with a baton to the head. People don’t tend to get it. Either they don’t get it or they don’t care. One way or the other, I think they’re wrong.

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