News Coronavirus Uncovered: Why anti-mask brigade’s legal arguments are just plain wrong

Uncovered: Why anti-mask brigade’s legal arguments are just plain wrong

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When you step onto a hazardous construction site, you must wear a safety helmet.

And when travelling in a car, you need to wear a seatbelt.

These laws were designed to protect Australians from harm so the vast majority comply with them.

The same goes for wearing a face mask during a global pandemic.

Most people agree that wearing a mask or face covering is a small sacrifice in the fight against a deadly and unpredictable disease.

Yet a small minority of self-taught ‘legal experts’ are claiming the legal requirement to wear a face mask in locked-down areas of Victoria is a breach of human rights.

A handy guide to ruining someone’s day

A handbook outlining which legal jargon to use as comebacks to police or staff members trying to do the right thing by enforcing the mandatory face mask rule has been circulating online.

The document encourages readers to film their altercations and cites sections of the Crimes Act 1958 and Supreme Court rulings as legal grounds for refusing to wear a mask.

Suggested retorts include:

  • “As I have not committed a crime, nor am I under arrest, therefore I am free to go”
  • “If I have the right to remain silent, then I am not required to surrender that right by telling you anything, and that includes my name and/or my address.”

But Juliette McIntyre, a lecturer in law at the University of South Australia, says the human rights argument against wearing a face mask simply doesn’t stand up.

“A lot of what is said in these handouts is a long way off from being correct,” she told The New Daily. 

“There are no human rights which give you the right to just do whatever you want.

“Any shop – say it’s an Apple store in Adelaide – can set its conditions of entry and make those whatever they like as long as they’re reasonable.”

In other words, quoting random sections of Australian legal acts won’t get you anywhere.

But that’s discrimination!

No, it’s not.

“Discrimination is based on an inherent characteristic like race, language or religion,” Ms McIntyre said.

“But if everyone is being asked to wear a mask, whether they’re male, female, white or whatever religion, then there is no discrimination on those bases.”

She added special exemptions had already been made to accommodate people with a disability or a legitimate medical condition, “not just ‘I find it uncomfortable or a bit annoying’.”

Useful ‘idiots’

Professor Axel Bruns, a social media researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, said people making such videos were functioning as “useful idiots” for potentially “more sinister elements”.

This includes the people producing the scripts for people to read from.

He said there was a fair degree of cross-pollination between anti-mask groups and others, such as anti-vaxxers, anti-government and far-right factions.

“There is a hard core of people wanting to provoke a response against mask rules, or who are being mischievous and enjoy provoking others,” he told The New Daily.

“Whatever bigger motivations, this core of people is trying to create this content with the aim of making it look like a big general movement, not just a very small number of people.

“Behind the scenes, there is maybe just a small group of people spreading it to local groups.”

Professor Bruns said some of the groups were acting with a high degree of strategy and what he called “media literacy”, hoping that their actions would attract outrage and therefore be amplified across social and mainstream media.

Individuals rights v the right to safety at work

“We need to think of human rights from the collective perspective,” Ms McIntyre said.

“The people in store who are working there have a right to health, to a safe working environment. These rights exist in law.

Your individual desire not to wear a mask does in no way shape or form trump the rights of other people to a healthy environment and safe working environment.’’

Ms McIntyre said she encouraged citizens to educate themselves about the law, but added they also needed to have an understanding about how the laws work, and how they interact with other laws.

“No human right is absolute – subject to a very limited number of exceptions, like the right to be free from torture,” she said.

“And being asked to wear a face mask is not torture.”