A bill to repeal the blasphemy law has been tabled

by | June 6, 2017

, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled Bill C-51 to amend the Criminal Code, which repeals around two dozen sections of the Code and modifies several others. One of the sections it repeals is §296: the blasphemy law.

[Photo of Jody Wilson-Raybould.]

Jody Wilson-Raybould

Wilson-Raybould has been teasing this repeal for months, ever since last year’s petition got its reading in the House. , she announced that the law was under review, part of a larger push to remove “zombie laws” from the Criminal Code.

C-51 repeals or updates dozens of sections of the Code, not just the blasphemy law. Other laws being repealed include nonsense like:

C-51 will also repeal §365, “pretending to practice witchcraft”.

In their outline of C-51, the blasphemy law (along with the witchcraft law) falls under the section for “obsolete and/or redundant provisions”, specifically listed among laws that are are no longer relevant or required. That’s actually interesting, because there was another section for needlessly specific laws that could be handled by more general laws. Had the blasphemy law been counted under that section, it might have been interpreted as a signal that hate speech laws (for example) could take up the job of the blasphemy law. Instead, the blasphemy law has simply been labelled straight-up obsolete. Nicely done.

C-51 does more than simply repeal a bunch of obsolete laws. Its other purpose – arguably its primary purpose – is to update badly-worded sexual assault laws. For example, it will be made explicit that an unconscious person cannot consent, and that silence is not consent, among other things. Also, there are clarifications that a complainant’s sexual history is not admissible as evidence – in plain English, a rape victim will not be put on trial for their past sexual activity; the fact that they consented to similar acts in the past is not evidence that they consented to the act in question in a trial.

There’s also a new requirement for the Minister of Justice to provide “Charter statements”, explaining how a proposed change to the law might affect Charter rights and freedoms. Wilson-Raybould has been publishing these for her bills already (for example, here is the Charter statement for Bill C-51); this will just codify her practice, and force it on Justice Ministers that follow her.

However, none of those things look particularly contentious, and indeed, several were already part of the common law due to past Supreme Court decisions. All-in-all, there really doesn’t look like there’s anything in there that might cause the bill to be held up. However, it’ll be a stretch to pass it before the House wraps up for the summer (on for the Lower House, for the Senate).

If you’d like to follow the bill, you can do so on Parliament’s LEGISInfo site: https://www.parl.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?Language=E&billId=9002286.

One thought on “A bill to repeal the blasphemy law has been tabled

  1. Dean Shewring

    I think it would have been useful to have quoted from the Charter statement, which indicates the positive effect on Canadian’s rights with the repeal of blasphemy laws: “the repeal of the prohibition on publishing blasphemous libel (section 296 of the Criminal Code) would enhance freedom of expression protected by section 2(b) as well as section 15(1) equality rights. The offence has its origins in the 17th century, when blasphemy was considered an offence against God.”


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