Excellent. Thank you.
My name is Tony Hunt. I am general manager of loss prevention for London Drugs Limited. For those who are not familiar with it, London Drugs is a Canadian retailer based out of Vancouver and founded in 1945. We have stores from Victoria through to Winnipeg.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on Bill C-309. As a security professional representing one of the many businesses impacted by the Vancouver hockey riot, I hope to share with the committee the role that masks can play and the impact these large-crowd events have on the safety of our staff and the public.
On the evening of June 15, 2011, our hallmark London Drugs store at the corner of Granville and Georgia in Vancouver was broken into and pillaged by over 300 criminals. Thirty staff watched in horror as thugs ravaged through the burglar-resistant glass and steel security gates, pounding their way into the store. The staff fled to safety in our basement room barricade, while thieves stole $450,000 worth of expensive merchandise and inflicted $224,000 in physical damage.
The property can be replaced, but the emotional trauma on our staff is just not an acceptable societal standard. In the independent review of the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup playoffs riot, entitled The Night the City Became a Stadium, Mr. Furlong and Mr. Keefe discovered that on the night of game seven at the main viewing area downtown, before the first goal was even scored, there had already been reports to police of a small cluster of masked men in the crowd.
The review report also determined that on the night of the riot, some individuals came downtown prepared to make trouble. To quote the report:
...some revellers came with alcohol. Others were equipped with masks, weapons, accelerants...
This report indicates that certain individuals came to this assembly with weapons for use on people and property, and masks to first obscure their identities. I have nine images I brought with me today that I can circulate to the committee, if it so pleases.
We found in reviewing our video images that a significant percentage of the suspects who entered our store during the looting either wore some type of mask or attempted to obscure their face in some way. Our estimate is that 30% of the suspects tried to use their shirts, sweaters, umbrellas, scarves, bandanas, and even a wrestling mask to hide their faces. While the motivation behind such violent and wanton disregard for the safety and the rights of others seems beyond comprehension, in viewing the images it appears obvious that many of those attacking our store covered their faces before entering the store to commit their crime.
One can only wonder if there had been an opportunity and means to deter those individuals from donning masks, if at least some of the damage and risk to life may have been avoided. The key from the victims' perspective is to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place.
London Drugs seeks to provide a safe and secure environment for our customers and our staff under all circumstances. In 2010, the national retail federation in the U.S. published a white paper on the evaluation and preparation that retailers can conduct before large events. This is generally accepted in the retail business as a best practices document. We use these and other best practices to plan for events in our communities that may put our staff or business at risk.
We regularly plan around and coexist peacefully with large gatherings on the city streets, parks, or courtyards near our stores. The overwhelming majority of protest events are peaceful, cause little disruption, and are attended by well-meaning individuals exercising their rights. When preparing for these large events, we view gatherings attended by those in masks to be extremely high-risk events, requiring additional preparation, anxiety, and expense.
It has been my experience in observing protests that often groups wishing to stage a protest indicate that masks are not welcome due to the potential for causing trouble or devolving the situation. I was present when this comment was made during the Occupy protests in Vancouver several months ago, and this week the same comments were attributed by the media to protesters in Quebec City.
It is important to note that the issue of masks encouraging criminal behaviour goes beyond protests. There is a very real threat to retail businesses that security professionals refer to as multiple-offender crimes. These are different from flash mobs, which are generally involved in a fun-loving and spontaneous prank. Multiple-offender crimes are events in which individuals attend a location and under the cover of a prank or spontaneous gathering, and often with the power of social media to organize and amass for anonymity, commit large-scale grab-and-run thefts or vandalism while putting staff and customers in danger. These events are of growing concern in the U.S. The ability to freely obscure one's identity while appearing in a flash-mob atmosphere simply increases the chance of escalation to criminal behaviour.
All of us realize that our technology and our communications have changed. With the proliferation of video and mobile phone cameras, there is a vested interest for those who wish to act in a criminal and unsafe manner to remain anonymous by wearing a mask. Providing our police with a tool to intercede at a more preliminary stage of an event may prevent violence by removing the anonymity currently enjoyed by those who create mayhem.
The lawful excuse provisions of the bill recognize and protect those who have lawful reason to wear head coverings, or have other lawful excuse for obscuring their face. As a company we are respectful of cultural diversity and believe these provisions to be vital for the bill to be successful in protecting our customers and staff while respecting those same individual rights and observances.
For the safety of our staff, the public, and for those who wish to exercise their rights to protest in a lawful and peaceful manner, we encourage the acceptance of the bill, providing the provisions of lawful excuse are retained.