On Friday, Nov 6th, 2015, I attended the Bombers vs. Argonauts game at Rogers Centre with a number of friends and family. With 3:35 left in the game I was threatened with arrest for trespassing for wearing the same mask I have been wearing to CFL games at Rogers Centre and stadiums across Canada for years. If that sounds ridiculous that’s because it is and I’m not the only one who thinks so.
I want to make clear that I was in no way obnoxious, swearing, loud or demonstrating any lewd behaviour at any point that evening.
I have transcribed speech as best I can. Behold the thoughtless enforcement of ridiculous policy!
I have a longer video but its videographer will not grant me permission to release it publicly. I would be happy to show you privately if you are interested.
I would be remiss not to share with you the full details of the evening and I will attempt to do so as briefly as I can without leaving out anything crucial so you can judge the incident for yourself. I will tell you what happened and why Rogers Centre staff insisted on this course of action which should concern fans all across the CFL but not necessarily for the reasons you my think. It’s a bit of a lengthy post but worth reading until the end so stick with it!
We entered the game as usual through the metal detectors and security stations now mandated by MLB. Here I was told that I would not be allowed to wear my mask inside, in fact, it was prohibited from even entering the stadium. The mask in question:
I was informed the above mask is full face, even though it doesn’t cover my mouth or chin and is thus barred even though I’ve been wearing it to Rogers Centre for years without issue.
I was beside myself and honestly assumed this particular security guard was being overzealous and misinterpreting whatever policy he was citing (since I’d never heard of this rule anywhere in professional sport). So I just took it off and went to another gate to avoid anymore hassle. I put it back on once inside and there were no further incidents, with the exception of taking it off to buy beer for age verification, which is perfectly reasonable. In fact, I was told by those selling the beer I only needed to show my face while making a purchase. Furthermore, in attendance were many fans of the Argonauts dressed in their own ceremonial garb similarly clutching or obscuring their faces. As far as I know they were left alone.
I spent the entire game in the crummy goal-line seat I had paid for, despite the fact I could have moved anywhere in the sparsely populated dome. I minded my own business for the entire duration of my stay.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter I was approached by the usher of my section whom was commanded by radio to inform me that my mask was against policy and needed to be removed. She didn’t know why but stated she’d been watching us all game and noted there was no problem with my behaviour. She suggested I curl it up so my face was visible. I made an effort to tuck the chins straps inside so as to make it less “full face” but this failed and I gave up, thinking it ridiculous to even try.
About five minutes later she returned to say she had been commanded again by her superiors that I must remove my mask. She further reitered that she didn’t believe I had done anything wrong nor did she agree with management but had to seen following orders. I was warned that I could expect a visit from “some people”.
Perhaps about another five minutes after that a man in a suit approached me and said he wanted to “speak with me upstairs.” When I inquired as to the subject of this proposed conversation he declined to elaborate. I informed him I would be happy to have the conversation at my seat. He explained that my mask was in violation of Rogers Centre policy and I had to remove it or leave. I asked why he was making such a big deal about nothing and harassing me when I hadn’t done anything to warrant such treatment. I also noted the game was nearly over and would be leaving soon. He wasn’t interested in finding a compromise and was visibly angry at me. I stated that I would not be removing the mask because I thought the “policy” and the way they singled me out was nonsensical.
With 3:35 left in the game he returned, only this time I could hear people in the general vicinity saying “here come the cops…” It was at this point the completely random stranger stood up in my defense because he had evidently heard enough. I had not asked him to but the fact that he felt this as ludicrous as myself speaks to the absurdity of the situation. The man in the suit quickly gave way to the paid duty Toronto Cop as soon as the bystander rose out of his seat.
The officer informed me that Rogers Center has a policy against my mask and that it was their business to make the polices. When I questioned what would happen if I refused to remove my mask I was informed that I would be arrested for trespassing.
As incredibly insane as the situation was, there also wasn’t anything I could do about it. One way or another they would have me leave, I could martyr myself and be dragged away in steel or make a statement and leave relatively unimpeded. As you can see in the video I chose the latter.
The man in the suit had assembled quite the security detail for me though I doubt it was for my protection. Four police officers took me to the doors with him. As I was escorted out I made sure to protest, non-violently of course, the policy which led to this threat of arrest.
I also got the impression the Staff Sergeant I spoke with thought the situation was ridiculous but Rogers was paying him $85/hr to remove people whom, in their minds, needed removing and he wasn’t about to argue the case on my behalf. However, as I was informing the public on my way out why I had so much company he took a decidedly different tone. I repeated variations of “I could be arrested for wearing a mask”, maybe four or five times and he did not approve.
Perhaps he felt at this juncture that law enforcement were getting a bad rap, I don’t know. I was informed by the officer that I was causing a disturbance and he was “cautioning” me against continuing further since it could lead to an arrest for causing a disturbance. I was maybe 150ft from the door by this stage. I really wish he hadn’t because up until then I’d say the cop was handling things pretty well.
Normally I’d find something like that hilarious, since until they showed up to harass me out of my seat, there hadn’t been a disturbance, the man in the suit and my police escort had caused it! Anyway, he wanted me to shut up and it worked. I didn’t need to say anymore because my supporters had taken up the cause for me.
I was shown the door and that was pretty much it.
After my encouraged departure, a couple members of my entourage chased down the man in the suit for an explanation. From what I’m told he tried quite hard to avoid them and was evasive but eventually offered that my mask interfered with their facial recognition system which is the reason why the policy exists.
Yes you read that correctly. Their computer couldn’t recognize my face and they wouldn’t have it. Also, I think the suit was pissed at me for challenging his authority…
You may or may not be surprised at that, I don’t know. I certainly was, actually I was in disbelief. Apparently, their “system” literally needs to see your face at all times and it’s not enough to remove your mask while being ID’d by a member of their staff (which I am totally fine with). You can’t wear anything that interferes with the system, my supporters were told, ever. Not an issue apparently for the multitude of others with devices covering their faces for reasons he wouldn’t elaborate on.
The Rogers Centre policy in question can be found here. One of the prohibited items in that policy:
Full face masks
While it also mentions a CCTV video system it says nothing about needing to visual process your visage.
I have no idea what this facial recognition system is used for. I’m guessing it has two primary purposes:
- To identify those who have committed a crime (or violated policy) and record them on camera.
- To identify those who have been banned from the premises so they can be ejected.
Maybe they just want to track who is buying peanuts and where?
I have no problem showing anyone my face for identification purposes. I also have no problem being recorded on CCTV. I would have even let them take a picture of my mug and photocopy my driver’s license should they need to check my name against a list or know where to send law enforcement for whatever infraction they decide I’ve committed while in attendance. However, banning a simple cracked, tattered and faded partial face mask simply so Big Brother can constantly digitize and log a face is an unreasonably limit to the right of free expression countless CFL fans across the country have enjoyed since the very first game was played.
Many will undoubtedly say, “Well it’s the same as a nightclub banning sneakers or hats.” Or, “They told you not to bring it in, your fault.”
Unfortunately, Rogers probably does have the legal right to ban “full face masks”, since they own the place (though I take issue with their interpretation of “full face”). Unlike voting, going to a football game isn’t a Charter right, nor does it hold the same reverence as taking the Oath of Citizenship so it may be difficult to mount a human rights challenge. However it sets a disturbing precedent and raises some very serious questions.
Is it morally acceptable to interfere with one of the great traditions of Canadian sport because it impedes a computer algorithm? What about Halloween?
Does this mean women wearing the niqab are prohibited from entering Rogers Center?
Didn’t we just have the debate about showing your face in this country? Undoubtedly there are many who think it is never acceptable to hide your face in public, just ask Zunera Ishaq.
Zunera, if you would ever like to see a baseball game or concert at the Rogers Centre I will buy you a ticket.
I’m left with more questions than answers. Why did they insist on forcing the issue when they could have just waited three minutes and thirty-five seconds? I would have left at the conclusion of the game all by myself. Were others harassed similarly? I can only guess that the man in the suit was determined to make an example, that my defiance would be broken.
What will happen at BMO next year and other CFL stadiums going forward? On the list of prohibited items at BMO Field:
Masks (may be worn in your seat only, must be removed when leaving your section).
Is this the beginning of the end of the CFL super fan? How does this impact the thousands of die hard CFL fans from across the country who will attend the 104th Grey Cup next year at BMO? This concerns me much more than being tossed out of SkyDump.
Showing your face to a living breathing human being when being asked is one thing, making it constantly available for computer tracking and logging is another. Are we as a society comfortable with the notion that unless our faces can be individually recognized and cataloged in a database at all times when in public, we may be denied service or far worse, arrested for trespassing?
The Stasi would’ve loved Rogers and their stadium.
I went into the last ever football game at SkyDome feeling nostalgic, thinking I would miss watching football inside its comfortable warmth, that the 104th Grey Cup would be much colder and/or wet than it needed to be. I left thinking I’d rather sit on the metal of the temporary stands at Mosaic Field in -32C cold, sans seat cushion and in front of a drunk spilling his beer slushie down my back. It would feel better than being treated like a criminal and I’d be allowed the freedom to express myself as a fan of the CFL, as I have for years.
Good riddance to SkyDump and the assholes that run it!
Please share this post with other fans of the CFL so we can raise awareness and stop this virus from spreading. Debate in the comments especially welcome and I can be reached via email or twitter as usual.