Friday, December 11, 2009

Yet Another Fake Magician

As I've mentioned before, while I generally find that the "skeptic movement" consists mostly of closed-minded debunkers I still believe that they sometimes perform the valuable service of exposing frauds who use claims of magical powers to cheat their clients out of large sums of money. Like this individual, who has been charged with "pretending to practice witchcraft" under Canadian law.

Vishwantee Persaud allegedly defrauded a Toronto lawyer of tens of thousands of dollars by telling him she was the embodiment of the spirit of his deceased sister, come back to help him in business. Ms. Persaud now faces charges under a rarely used section of the criminal code for pretending to practice witchcraft.

“She said she came from a long line of witches and could do tarot-card readings,” says Detective Constable Corey Jones, who investigated the case. “It was through this that she cemented [the lawyer's] trust,” setting the stage for the fraud to follow, which, according to Det. Constable Jones, included claiming fictitious expenses such as law-school tuition and cancer treatments.

While it's easy to see how a law like this one could be used to persecute legitimate professional sorcerers, a reading of the facts of the case shows that Persaud is anything but. She appears to be a garden variety confidence artist who engaged in a number of fraudulent activities above and beyond her claims of paranormal powers.

The lawyer met Ms. Persaud, who claimed to be in law school, in early 2009 and started to mentor her. According to Det. Constable Jones, he probably gave Ms. Persaud more than $100,000 over the year.

Det. Constable Jones says the scheme came to a head when Ms. Persaud said they were going to make money hosting and providing security for certain celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival. “That's where everything fell apart because of course no Hollywood celebrities showed up,” he says.

In fact, he points out, this kind of offence could lead to a simple charge of fraud, which carries longer jail terms and stiffer fines. As it stands, a conviction of pretending to practise witchcraft carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine.

The article also mentions the unusual history of this particular law banning the fraudulent practice of witchcraft. The Canadian law dates back to 1892 and was specifically tailored to target confidence artists. Notably, the practice of any form of witchcraft, pretend or not, was illegal in Britain until 1954, so Canada seems to have been well ahead of the curve there.

“It's a historical quirk,” says Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Some sections of the Canadian criminal code reflect offences that were more prevalent centuries ago. When the code was enacted in 1892, witchcraft per se was no longer a punishable offence, he says, but lawmakers wanted to ensure witchcraft wasn't used as a cover for fraud.

Section 365 states that any one who fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment or who “undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes … is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

“It's not really about occult activity,” Prof. Young says. “It's about defrauding people.”

Persaud is scheduled to appear in court on December 24th to answer the charges. It's good to see fraudulent magicians like her answering for their crimes, because situations like this reflect badly on all magical practitioners.

So remember that if you ever find yourself practicing magick in Canada you should make sure that you're doing it for real. If you're just pretending you could find yourself in trouble with the law.

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1 comment:

Suecae Sounds said...

People who are scamming people are not magicians per se imho. This has always seemed to be a larger problem in the new age movement, but pagans or people of other religious denominations should do well to draw a clear line against these kinds of frauds.