Happy Canada Day Eve, you hellbound Canucks! Did you know that Canada still has blasphemy laws on the books? Indeed, we do. If we go by strictly what’s on the books, blasphemy is punishable by up to two years in prison in our vast nation. Wait, you thought Canada was a modern, secular country? Haha, you silly little hosers.
The last conviction for such an offence was handed down to Reverend Victor Rahard, a member of the Canadian Anglican church, in 1935. Upon the walls of his Montreal Church, this blasphemous reverend hung posters entitled, “Sermon from an old monk.” In his “sermon” posters, he criticized the Roman Church using scripture to back up his opinions. He said,
Judas sold Christ but did not kill Him, the priests attempt to sell Him and immolate Him. Judas sold Christ for a large sum of money; the Roman priests sell Him every day and even three times. Judas repented and threw his money away; the Roman priests do not repent and keep the money. Now what do you think of the papist religion?
… the Roman Church is not content with the commandments of God. She wished to have her own commandments for the satisfaction of her ambition and the prosperity of her shop… It is not the commandments of the Church that they should have been called, but commandments of the Roman Clergy.
In a time when Montreal was overwhelmingly Catholic, these words stung. Enough to charge a man with blasphemous libel and find him guilty.
At this very moment, in our Canadian law books, there exists the same law that saw this Reverend tried in a Quebec court of law.
From Section 296 of the Canadian Criminal Code:
1. Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
2. It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.
3. No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.
This law is poorly written as law goes, as it does not even attempt to define what blasphemous libel is, it doesn’t clarify whether one can commit blasphemy against just any religion, nor does it attempt to deal with motivation, an important criminal concept. That means that there exists a law in the Canadian criminal code that suggests it is criminal to say pasta is disgusting near a Pastafarian.
Luckily, however, in 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed into law and includes protection for our freedom of expression. The charter defines freedom of expression as a fundamental right and as such, renders Canada’s blasphemy laws as obsolete.
Nonetheless, the law remains intact. A law that sent outspoken atheist and advocate for rational thought, Eugene Victor Sterry to prison and then saw him deported from Canada. In the 1920s, Sterry published a newspaper called The Christian Enquirer which aimed to “provide in the cheapest form the reviews and arguments and demonstrable facts usually kept more or less concealed from the mass of the people by the aristocracy of intellect, the leaders in Science, Letters and Philosophy.” Referring to God as a “frenzied megalomaniac”, he wrote pieces that questioned the existence of a soul, examined scientific evidence and poked brilliant holes in the Christian creation myth. An excerpt,
Read your Bible if you have not done it before, and you will find in it hundreds of passages relative to the Divine Being, which any moral and honest man would be ashamed to have appended to his character. . . . The God of the Bible is depicted as one who walked in the Garden of Eden, talked with a woman, cursed a snake, sewed skins together for clothes, preferred the savory smell of roast cutlets to the odors of boiled cabbage, who sat in a burning bush or popped out from behind the rocks, this irate Old Party who thunders imprecations from the mountain or mutters and grouches in the tabernacle, and whom Moses finds so hard to tame, who in his paroxysms of rage has massacred hundreds of thousands of His own chosen people, and would after have slaughtered the whole lot if cunning Old Moses hadn’t kept reminding him of ‘What will the Egyptians say about it?’ This touchy Jehovah, who the deluded superstitionists claim to be the Creator of the whole universe, makes one feel utter contempt for the preachers and unfeigned pity for the mental state of those who can retain a serious countenance as they peruse the stories of His peculiar whims, freaks and fancies, and His frenzied megalomaniac boasting, to the high displeasure of Almighty God.
Sterry clearly wanted to stir shit up, handing copies of his Christian Enquirer to Canada’s political leaders of the day, in person. Of course, this sounds provocative – but you’re here reading a blog that has done far worse. This guy doesn’t sound Hitchensian, rather, Hitchens sounds Sterryesque.
Though he would be a celebrated figure for outspoken atheists today, back then he managed only to land himself in prison, and shipped off back to England to live out his heathen days oblivious to the hellfire everyone was sure awaited him. The law that accomplished this primitive end? Yeah, we still have it. In Canada. In 2016.
It’s the sort of law you’d expect might come out of a southern U.S. state rather than the Great White North, where religion has become little more than a non-thing. While we are protected against this law by the Charter of Rights, the fact that it is still there is an insult to every thinking Canadian on the planet. A law that, in essence, makes what I do here as Godless Mom criminal.
So, I don’t know about you fine heathens, but I say fuck that. I’m feeling this growing pain bad, and I no longer want my daily activities fitting the definition of a crime. I don’t like backwards bullshit, and I often point this out when it comes to the American Justice system. It’s indescribably embarrassing that the most backwards of all criminal law, exists in my forward-thinking, Canada. It’s not just a blemish on the face of Canadian values, it’s a festering, septic carbuncle and we need to amputate… now.
So, before you crack your traditional Canada Day breakfast beer, and before you cover your maple leaf-shaped pancakes and round bacon with Quebec’s best syrup this Canada Day, make sure you sign this petition to drag Canada out of the dark ages, and into 2016:
Yes, even you believers should care because it really doesn’t say much for your morality if you’re okay with limiting the free expression of others. It also doesn’t say a whole lot about your God, if he needs mere mortals to enforce his law for him.
If you’re not a Canadian, in honour of Canada’s birthday, I ask for one, simple birthday gift: share this post far and wide so we can show the world just how secular Canada really is.
Happy Canada Day you ugly puck-chasers!