Canada Joins Bahrain, Saudi Arabia in Banning Masks -- but Only at Riots

The list of oppressive countries legislating the wearing of masks keeps growing: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and now ... Canada.

Yes, Canada.

Last month, we reported on Saudi Arabia banning the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the movie V for Vendetta, which have been a staple of populist protests from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, and now the Taksim Square protests in Turkey. The Canadian ban is a bit different -- but just as strange.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes it illegal to wear a mask in Canada "during a riot or unlawful assembly." (Because apparently Canadian laws against rioting aren't dissuasive enough?) Those caught wearing masks during riots could spend up to six months in jail, not including additional charges for rioting; masked miscreants caught "inciting" a riot face a potential 10-year sentence. CBC reports that "exceptions can be made if someone can prove they have a 'lawful excuse' for covering their face such as religious or medical reasons."

Does that include dust masks to prevent getting sick at crowded, dirty protests? Balaclavas so protesters don't freeze on cold Canadian nights? Handkerchiefs to stave off the inhalation of tear gas? Do fake beards, like the one worn by the Canadian student above, count as masks? That's unclear, and will be left up to law enforcement officers' judgment. "In policing that's always the challenge -- we're required to use our discretion and judgment in every situation," Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association and Vancouver Police Union, told CBC.

Not only are the terms of the new law loosely defined, but the legislation may be redundant. Critics of the bill point out that there is already a Canadian law on the books prohibiting wearing a disguise "with intent to commit an indictable offense." But Canadian law enforcement officials counter that the law's original purpose -- it was aimed at incidences of armed robbery -- have made it difficult to apply to rioters.

"We can all rest easier tonight knowing our communities have been safer with [the bill's] passage," the law's sponsor, Member of Parliament Blake Richards, told reporters.

So, if you're planning on rioting in Canada, remember the old "only break one law at a time" rule and don't wear a mask. Or hope that the law goes unenforced -- like that mask ban in Saudi Arabia.



Spain's Finance Minister on Tax Error Involving Princess Cristina: 'Oops'

In 2011, just as America was recovering from its collective swoon over the British royal wedding, another European monarchy was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Iñaki Urdangarin, the duke of Palma and son-in-law of Spain's constitutional monarch, Juan Carlos I, was accused of using his royal connections to embezzle millions of euros through a sports charity.

The accusations have been an embarrassment for the once-popular royal family, whose members have responded by distancing themselves from Urdangarin, even going so far as to remove any trace of the duke from their website (a Spanish reporter speaking to NPR in February was quick to point out that Urdangarin was the king's son-in-law). And with the announcement in May that Princess Cristina, Urdangarin's wife and the king's youngest daughter, might also be implicated in the scandal, the situation quickly went from embarrassing to facepalm-worthy. While charges that she served as an accomplice in her husband's case were quickly dropped, an official tax audit report alleged that she had sold €1.43 million of property in the mid-2000s -- an accusation that, all legal issues aside, is a public relations nightmare in a country with 27-percent unemployment.

So, is tax-dodging as much of an issue with Spain's royals as it is with its soccer players? To quote Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend." On Tuesday, the country's College of Land Registrars announced that none of the properties tied to Princess Cristina actually belonged to her, and expressed mystification as to how they were ever attributed to her in the first place. The following day, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro issued a formal apology to la Infanta. El País reports:

"An error was made when recording the data and from there when they were submitted to the judiciary," said Montoro....

"Technically, I don't know how it happened. I do not see any cloak and dagger here; these are purely administrative errors. To say these errors do not occur is to be detached from reality."

The problem seems to have involved an incorrectly transcribed national ID number, although we won't know for sure until tax officials conclude their internal investigation. Earlier this year, a similar ID-card mixup led to Cristina's sister Elena being falsely accused of driving a tractor without a license.

Spain's tax agency denies any wrongdoing, but it remains to be seen whether John Boehner will demand jail time for those at fault.

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