The Canadian Senate has voted to repeal the country’s “blasphemous libel”, as part of a bill intended to remove outdated legislation.
Pending “Royal Assent” this will mean the end of “blasphemy” law in Canada!
Under Section 296 of the Canadian Criminal Code, dating back to 1892 the crime of “blasphemous libel” was in principle punishable by a prison term up to two years. Despite a “good faith” provision protecting “opinion” delivered in “decent language”, the law had historically been used to prosecute satire and criticism. The last conviction as in 1927, though as late as 1979 an Anglican clergyman tried unsuccessfully to bring a prosecution against Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC [British Columbia] Humanist Association, a partner in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, comments:
The passage of this Bill is a clear recognition by Parliament that archaic restrictions on freedom of expression have no place in Canada. Further, it serves as a sign that Canada condemns those theocracies around the world that are willing to punish someone for disagreeing with religious orthodoxy.
Humanist and freethinking groups from across Canada ran a Parliamentary petition calling for the repeal of section 296, gaining 7400 signatures. In an official response to the petition from Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, it was confirmed that the blasphemy law was being considered as part of a broader effort of justice reform. The Government then included the repeal of section 296 in a bill to modernize the criminal code. Known as Bill C-51, the act consolidates and repeals many provisions now considered archaic or unconstitutional.
C-51 initially also proposed repealing section 176 of the Criminal Code. This section prohibits disrupting a religious service. Humanists argued at every stage that repealing this section would help protect the right of Canadians to dissent from religious orthodoxy. However, the Government ultimately chose to amend the section following a large and coordinated effort by religious groups to lobby the House of Commons committee that studied the bill.
The bill reached the Senate in December 2017 and passed third reading with amendments on October 30, 2018. The House of Commons considered those amendments on December 6 and 10, 2018 and ultimately rejected them. In a vote today the Senate agreed it “does not insist on its Amendments” clearing the way for its passage.
It now awaits Royal Assent by Governor General Julie Payette, at which point Canada’s blasphemy law will be officially repealed.
Congratulations to BC Humanists and all in Canada who campaigned for this change!