Canada to Legalize Witchcraft

Witch ridin' a goat(Photo: detail from "Witches' Sabbath," a woodcut by Hans Baldung (1510), © Trustees of the British Museum)

I’m all for decriminalizing things, but this new bill Canada is threatening to pass would render at least two chapters of my book obsolete, and so I object to it on that basis.

They’re supposed to be so polite there. But do they even call to give me a heads-up? Nope.

Bill C-51 would make a bunch of amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code for the purpose of modifying or repealing various provisions that are unconstitutional, obsolete, or redundant, so you can see why this bothers me. Chief among the vanishing provisions is section 365 of the Code,  which says this:

Pretending to practise witchcraft, etc.

Every one who fraudulently

  1. pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
  2. undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
  3. pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

As I think I said in the book (what? it’s not like I read it every day), this law only makes it illegal to do these things if you are pretending to do them. If you actually practice witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, conjuration, fortune-telling, or whatever the use of an occult or “crafty science” to find lost things is called, you’re fine. (At least in Canada.) But pretending to do them is against the law.

According to the legislative summary, this is unnecessary because it’s just a specific kind of fraud, and there just aren’t that many witches running around these days. (At least in Canada.)

Given the paltry number of prosecutions, this offence has likely been deemed obsolete. It could also be considered redundant, as section 380 of the Code defines the general offence of fraud as defrauding the public of property or money by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means. Section 365 can, therefore, be seen as one specific example of the general fraud offence.

Since the law was redundant anyway, this should not tempt any of you to run out and start pretending to be witches or sorcerers or to find things with your crafty science(s). Still illegal.

The other chapter-affecting amendment is the repeal of section 49, which made it illegal to do any act intended to alarm the Queen:

Acts intended to alarm Her Majesty or break public peace

Every one who wilfully, in the presence of Her Majesty,

  1. does an act with intent to alarm Her Majesty or to break the public peace, or
  2. does an act that is intended or is likely to cause bodily harm to Her Majesty,

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Again, please don’t run out and start trying to alarm her. You’ll get arrested anyway, plus, she seems like a nice lady. Leave her alone.

Other redundant and obsolete provisions that Canada is sadly repealing include: dueling, publishing a “blasphemous libel” (a term not defined in the Code), issuing trading stamps, publishing “crime comics,” falsely claiming royal warrant, and the penalty for “supplying noxious things.” Parliament had decided to repeal the ban on unlawful obstruction of an officiating clergyman, but after thinking it over, decided to not only keep it but extend it to any official presiding over a religious or spiritual service of any kind. So don’t do that, either.

Potential witches, sorcerers, or crafty scientists (and other affected parties) should be aware that these repeals will not take effect until after October 31. Although they will most likely not be too zealous about it in the meantime.

Happy Halloween.