Friday, January 19, 2018

Canada to Legalize Witchcraft

After a long process of legal review, Canada is moving towards eliminating many outdated laws. One of those laws is the prohibition on pretending to "exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration." This is an old law that was probably originally put in place to target fraud involving claims of paranormal powers, but the law is so vaguely written that it can be applied to cases where no scamming is involved. It could, for example, render any performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest illegal - because after all, any actor playing Prospero is pretending to use magick.

“One of the provisions that’s being removed in this bill is pretending to practise witchcraft,”Steve Coughlan, a professor at Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, told the House of Commons committee that studied the bill. “It probably hadn’t been prosecuted for 30 or 40 years, and about six months ago, some police officer in Toronto laid that charge. At some level, there’s an element of randomness as to when the lesser-known offences come up,” Prof. Coughlan added. “It’s somebody looking at the index, doing a search online, and trying to find it. It’s possible that the crown can then look at it and say, ‘You know what? That’s the wrong one.’”

The plan to repeal archaic laws from the criminal code was well received in Parliament. “One must wonder about the existing laws regarding the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration” Wayne Stetski Kootenay, the NDP MP for Columbia, BC, told parliament. “In addition to the fact that it impinges on the rights of some religions, and would confuse the U.S. President who is certain that he is the target of a witch hunt, this might also hurt Harry Potter cosplayers; Dungeons and Dragons “larpers”, which I do not know much about but which my staff assure me is a thing; and others for whom sorcery is an entertainment. This is a good law to be rid of.”

But some opposition Conservative Party members were not thrilled with the idea. “We all chuckle and laugh, but I can understand why the party of Mackenzie King would want to make legal the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, and talking with people who have passed from this world, as Mackenzie King enjoyed doing,” Peter Van Loan, the Conservative MP for York, Simcoe, Ontario, said. “The concern is, and we have all heard stories like this, that people use these kinds of fraudulent witchcraft powers to persuade people that, for example, if they put $10,000 in an envelope, which they say will be burned but they slide it under the table instead, he or she will be saved from whatever curse they say the person is under.”

The thing is, I'm well aware that there are scammers who claim paranormal powers in order to hoodwink their targets. But shouldn't the example cited just be charged as fraud? There's no reason for Canada to have a special law for "fraud involving witchcraft" when fraud in general is already illegal, any more than there would be a reason to have a special law for "fraud involving envelopes." It's not like once this is repealed, there will be nothing left to charge these scammers with.

Furthermore, the idea that laws like this do no harm is just not true. Keeping them on the books means that law enforcement can go after Wiccan, Pagans, and anyone else who practices magick as a spiritual discipline any time they want. Canada is not necessarily as progressive as a lot of Americans think, especially with regard to religion. Wicca, Paganism, and even larger polytheistic traditions like Hinduism are not considered "real religions," and therefore have no legal protections.

A while back I covered the case of Dominique Smith, a Winnipeg woman who runs a metaphysical shop. Her shop was repeatedly vandalized by Christians, but the police were slow to take action. Technically, a police force more willing to persecute Smith could easily claim that her entire business is illegal under this law, and even though that hasn't happened, the fact that it could should be extremely troubling. Canada needs to step up and start protecting members of minority religions, and repealing this law will be a good start.

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Charles R said...

We have the same situation here in the UK. A shop run by witches in Gloucester has been repeatedly subject to abuse for several years now, leading to death threats. Funny how violent and abusive Christians can be.Clearly that bit about" love your neighbour" has never got through to them.....

Scott Stenwick said...

It really is amazing how vicious some of the Poor Oppressed Christians can be. I suppose if you have a worldview where you're oppressed by the *mere existence* of anybody with different spiritual beliefs, it should be expected, but still.

The ironic thing is that I would totally leave them alone if they lived by actual Christian principles like peace, compassion, and tolerance. But I keep making fun of them precisely because they seem to be so unable to live and let live.