The ongoing protests in Hong Kong took a new turn Friday as the leader of the city's government invoked a colonial-era law to ban demonstrators from wearing face masks.
The masks, which partially cover their wearers' faces, are enough to shield the demonstrators’ identities from authorities and face-recognition technology.
The new law is causing the unrest to escalate, and tensions appear to be spilling over to this side of the Pacific.
"So far we've seen assaults and silencing of people," said Kevin Huang, a local community organizer, when reflecting on the demonstrations in Hong Kong.
Earlier in the week, a group of high school students created a Lennon Wall near Aberdeen SkyTrain station, where people wrote messages of support on posters and post-it notes.
The event was disrupted by a group of men who appeared to be supporters of the Chinese government in Beijing. They tore down each message, leaving the concrete pillar bare.
"You have these thuggish-looking guys come in and destroy something that you put your heart into. For me, that's very disheartening to see," Huang said.
A similar incident happened at Burnaby North Secondary School, where a small group of people to tore down pro-Hong Kong posters that were taped to lockers.
A student, who didn’t want to be identified, said a group became aggressive when they put up the poster on their locker.
“Unfortunately when they were confronted the situation escalated and they shoved two students who were with me. This incident followed a previous pattern of students who ripped and vandalized the posters,” they said. “School should be a place of free ideas and expression. It is sad that in a place like Canada, ideas of free democracy are not treated with any respect and are merely torn away.”
The school's principal said it never escalated to something more violent and staff was able to have a conversation with the two sides.
"Staff were able to work with each of the kids and families involved to help them work through it in a more thoughtful way," said principal Dave Rawnsley. "We want to make sure kids can share their thoughts in a safe and respectful way."
Diana Lary, a UBC professor emerita of history with a focus on modern China, said it is not a surprise to see newcomers from China behave in such a manner.
"Those people tearing down the messages come from a very repressive society, where it's actually illegal to hold any views that aren't those of the communist party," Lary explained. "I feel quite sad for them because … the values that we have in Canada haven’t made any impact on them yet."
There will be another rally at the Aberdeen Lennon Wall on Saturday to show support for those high school students who organized the first event and to stand in solidarity with those in Hong Hong.
"We have to think about how we can protect our freedoms here and extend the liberties, if possible, to Hong Kong," Huang said.