Thursday, December 20, 2018

Why Canada's Witchcraft Law Needed to be Scrapped

Canada has finally struck down its archaic "pretending to practice witchcraft" law. In a previous post, I pointed out that existing fraud laws are sufficient for prosecuting scammers and confidence artists whether they defraud clients by claiming paranormal abilities or not. It made little sense to me how opponents of the law could claim otherwise, since Canada does have comprehensive laws prohibiting fraud that would have applied to every case I had previously come across.

But then there's this. Tiffany Butch of Timmins, Ontario, was charged under the law only two days before it was due to be repealed. I don't know all the facts of the case, but if the account from the article is true it sounds like the law is being applied in a discriminatory and problematic manner. That's why it needed to be scrapped.

Authorities have charged Butch, 33, of pretending to practice witchcraft over an incident that allegedly occurred in October, weeks before the law was scrapped last week. Police in Timmins, in northeastern Ontario, described Butch as a “self-proclaimed spiritualist, medium and clairvoyant.” They say she promised to protect a client from “some form of potential danger” to her family and tried to elicit payments in return.

Butch contends that she’s not a witch, but a psychic, and that she has been one since she was 11. Her alias was merely a “cute name” her friends and family called her, she said. She said she never advertised herself as someone who practices witchcraft. The charges against her are false, she said, and fellow psychics — her rivals — have conspired to frame her, though she declined to name anyone.

She said that sometime in October, a woman came to her office in Timmins and asked for a crystal ball reading. But, Butch said, she told her that she was not in business at that time. “I don’t believe that I even read for her,” Butch said. “I don’t believe I even provided this woman a reading.”

Putting these two accounts together, the sense I get is that something like this happened - the woman approached Butch and asked if she was a psychic and could give her a reading to help protect her family. Butch replied that she was and could do a reading for some sum of money. The woman refused to pay, and when Butch refused to read for her, the woman reported her to the police. That's not fraud - no money changed hands. But because Butch replied that she was psychic, she still committed a crime under this stupid law.

Many religions including my own accept the existence of paranormal and/or psychic abilities. And if I were in a position where a lot of people were getting on my case to cast spells for them I would of course charge for my time. I don't because I make plenty of money at my day job already. If I lived in Canada, though, I apparently could be charged the moment I asked for even a dollar or something ridiculous for my services. As I mentioned before, the law doesn't include any way to show that you are an actual spellcaster rather than "pretending."

So repealing the law and using existing fraud laws instead means that this wouldn't be a case, which is a good thing. There certainly is good reason to charge psychics and the like who bilk clients out of large sums of money through various scams. On the other hand, just charging a reasonable rate for time spent casting a spell is not the same thing at all, and the idea that it should be criminalized basically suggests that members of esoteric religions are all scammers by default. That implication is not just wrong, it's offensive.

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