5 Once-Banned Things That Could Soon Be Legal in Canada

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iStock

In late 2015, Britain’s lawmakers planned to repeal more than 200 outdated laws, including bans on wood-hauling and “handling salmon under suspicious circumstances.” Now, Canada is following suit: As the National Post reports, our neighbors to the North are finally giving their antiquated Criminal Code, which was introduced in 1892, a much-needed overhaul, tabling legislation that will remove laws deemed "obsolete, redundant, or already ruled as unconstitutional.” Here are five of the strangest, silliest, and out-of-left-field laws that will soon be scrubbed from the books.

1. CHALLENGING SOMEONE TO A DUEL.

According to Smithsonian, the last duel-related death in Canada occurred on June 13, 1833, when a man named John Wilson shot a romantic rival who’d gotten a little too snuggly with his love interest. (The lady in question reportedly wasn't even interested in Wilson, but the two ended up getting married anyway.) Even though centuries have passed, dueling is illegal under Section 71 of Canada’s Criminal Code.

Currently, individuals who challenge or provoke someone to fight a duel, accept a dueling challenge, or try to persuade a person to duel someone else face a two-year prison sentence. But soon, Canadians will be able to engage in arranged combat without consequence—so long as the altercation in question doesn’t involve assault with a weapon, or cause bodily harm. (Nerf guns, foam swords, and wizard wands are probably OK.)

2. PRETENDING TO BE A WITCH.

According to Section 365 of Canada’s Criminal Code, it’s illegal to “pretend to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,” “tell fortunes,” or pretend to use magic to discover stolen or lost items."

According to the National Post, the law is descended from Medieval English laws that sentenced accused witches to burn at the stake—but, as Broadly points out, there are people in modern-day Canada who have been charged under Section 365. These cases were allegedly fraud-related, and involved swindlers who charged others money to lift “curses,” or pretended to embody the spirits of deceased family members for monetary gain. (Don’t worry—no one was sentenced to the stake.)

Technically, Section 365 only makes a very specific kind of fraud—pretending to use magic—illegal. However, some legal experts have said that the law is discriminatory toward those who actually do practice witchcraft, and that it’s redundant in light of other fraud laws.

"Few commentators would argue the law should not protect people from frauds perpetrated under threat of misfortune or promise of unattainable goals by a charlatan,” authors Natasha Bakht and Jordan Palmer wrote in the journal Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues. “However, the provision that differentiates this type of fraud from others is mired in historic oppression of women and religious minorities, and is not necessary to prosecute fraud.”

3. ADVERTISING AWARDS FOR MISSING ITEMS, NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

In America, individuals seeking a missing bike, pet, or backpack often hang signs promising a cash award for its safe return, “no questions asked.” But in Canada, under Section 143 of the Criminal Code, individuals can be punished under the law if they publicly advertise a reward for the return of lost or stolen items, and use “words to indicate that no questions will be asked if it is returned.”

Soon, this practice will likely be allowed—meaning people will be able to widen their search efforts after a beloved possession or pet goes missing.

4. POSSESSING, PRINTING, DISTRIBUTING, OR PUBLISHING CRIME COMICS.

Paragraph 163(1)(b) of Canada’s Criminal Code forbids possessing, printing, distributing, or publishing comics that depict the commission of a crime, or the events surrounding it. As Global News reports, this ban dates back to the 1940s, when comics mostly consisted of pulp crime, horror, and romance, and they were widely read by everyone—including children.

In 1948, two young comic fans in British Columbia were pretending to be highway bandits, and shot and killed a man. This led to a backlash against the comic book industry, and legislation was passed to ban their sale. That said, the last time an individual was charged under Paragraph 163(1)(b) of the Criminal Code was in 1987, and the charges were later changed to distribution of sexually explicit material.

5. COMMITTING BLASPHEMOUS LIBEL.

Section 296 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits “blasphemous libel,” has been on the books since 1892, according to Global News Canada. Individuals who break this law face a two-year jail sentence—even though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the rule means, or whether it’s meant to punish blasphemy-tinged libel or libel with elements of blasphemy.

“I can’t tell you what it is,” Ottawa-based lawyer Michael Spratt recently told Global News. “No lawyer alive today has had to deal with it.” Now, none will have to.

The last time someone was convicted of blasphemous libel was in 1927, when a Toronto man named Ernest Victor Sterry—who was both an atheist and a member of the Rationalist Society—was given a 60-day jail sentence. Meanwhile, a movie theater in the Ontario city of Sault Ste. Marie was charged with blasphemous libel in 1980 for screening the 1979 British satire film Monty Python’s Life of Bryan, but charges were later dropped.

That said, “these obscure statutes can be abused," Toronto criminal lawyer Sean Robichaud warned Global News. “We look at these and laugh, and say ‘What is blasphemous libel?’ and say that nobody has been prosecuted for the last 100 years on it, and sort of chuckle at it. But with something like that you may have a particular political movement get into power, and then they start prosecuting on these sorts of things. Then it’s no longer a joke, because that otherwise unused law can be used.”

5 Facts About Charles Ponzi and the Original Ponzi Scheme

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Some of the most infamous scams in history have been Ponzi schemes, but before Bernie Madoff (or Bitcoin), there was Charles Ponzi himself. The con he built was so successful that his last name became synonymous with fraud. In January 2020, a century after he set up his fraudulent Securities Exchange Company, the phrase Ponzi scheme is still used to describe any scheme in which funds from new investors are used to pay back old investors. Here are some facts about Ponzi and his scheme that you should know.

1. Charles Ponzi arrived in the U.S. with $2.50 in his pocket.

Charles Ponzi was born in Lugo, Italy, in 1882. As a young adult, he worked as a postal worker and studied at the University of Roma La Sapienza. Neither path panned out for him, however. In 1903, when faced with dwindling funds, Ponzi boarded a ship for America in search of a better life. But Ponzi wasn't a master hustler at this point in his life; he arrived in Boston with $2.50 after gambling away the rest of his life savings on the ship.

2. Charles Ponzi spent time in prison before his famous scheme.

Ponzi was no stranger to crime before concocting the scheme that made his surname infamous. Not long after arriving in Boston, he moved to Canada and got in trouble for forging checks. He spent two years in a Canadian prison for his offenses. Back in the U.S., he served a term in federal prison for illegally transporting five Italians immigrants across the Canadian border. It was only after his so-called Ponzi scheme began to crumble that his criminal history was made public by journalists, thus speeding up his downfall.

3. Charles Ponzi got rich off the postal system.

In 1920, Ponzi discovered the key to the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme: an international postal reply coupon worth $.05. It had been included in a parcel he received from Spain as prepayment for his reply postage. Thanks to an international treaty, the voucher could be exchanged for one U.S. postage stamp worth a nickel, which Ponzi could then sell. Ponzi knew that the value of the Spanish peseta had recently fallen in relation to the dollar, which meant that the coupon was actually worth more than the 30 centavos used to purchase it in Spain. He took this concept to the extreme by recruiting people back home in Italy to buy postal reply coupons in bulk from countries with weak economies, so that he could redeem them in the U.S. for a profit.

4. Charles Ponzi swindled $20 million from investors.

Ponzi technically wasn’t breaking any laws with his postal service transactions, and if he had kept his idea to himself he would have gotten away with it. Instead, he turned his small money-making operation into a wide-reaching scam. If people invested money into his “business” of cashing in foreign postal vouchers, which he dubbed the Securities Exchange Company, they would get their money back plus 50 percent interest in 90 days. The deal was too good for many investors to pass up.

It was also too good to be true: The money wasn’t being used to buy coupons overseas. Ponzi kept most of the investments for himself and used the flood of money coming in from new investors to pay off the old ones. Many investors were so thrilled with their returns that they invested whatever money they had made back into the business, which helped Ponzi keep the sham afloat.

Ponzi was finally rich and famous, but soon enough, cracks in the scheme started to form. The Boston Post launched an investigation into Ponzi and revealed that in order for his business to be functional, he would need to be moving 160 million vouchers across world borders. There were only 27,000 postal reply coupons in circulation at the time. The final blow came when the publicist he had hired to represent him came out against him to the public. His system fell apart and it was revealed that he had stolen $20 million from investors.

Because he had lied to his clients about their investments through the mail, Ponzi was ultimately charged by the federal government for mail fraud. He served three-and-a-half years in prison and then served an additional nine years for state charges.

5. Charles Ponzi didn’t invent the Ponzi scheme.

Though Ponzi schemes were eventually named for him, Charles Ponzi didn’t invent this type of scam. There were many crooks before him who used the same method to exploit investors. Charles Dickens even wrote pre-Ponzi Ponzi schemes into his 1857 novel Little Doritt.

It’s possible that Ponzi got the idea for his own fraud from William F. Miller, who pulled a similar stunt working as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn in 1899. But it was the highs of Ponzi’s success—and the lows of his demise—that made his story so memorable.

14 Candid Photos of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Getty Images

January 20, 2020 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the federal holiday that celebrates the life of the civil rights activist. The holiday—which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and has been observed annually since 1986—is held on the third Monday in January. (King was born on January 15.) Here's a look back at King in action.

Martin Luther King Jr. on the phone
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  • American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits on a couch and speaks on the telephone after encountering a white mob protesting against the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 26, 1961.


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  • American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King arriving in London on October 1, 1961. He was in England to be the chief speaker at a public meeting about color prejudice and to appear on the BBC television program Face To Face.


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  • American president John F. Kennedy at the White House on August 28, 1963 with leaders of the civil rights March on Washington (left to right): Dr. Martin Luther King, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, A. Philip Randolph, President Kennedy, Walter Reuther, and Roy Wilkins. Behind Reuther is Vice President Lyndon Johnson.


William H. Alden/Evening Standard/Getty Images
  • King raising his hands in a restaurant on September 21, 1963.


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  • Canon John Collins greeting King at London Airport on December 5, 1964.


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  • King receives the Nobel Prize for Peace from Gunnar Jahn, president of the Nobel Prize Committee, in Oslo, on December 10, 1964.


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  • President Lyndon B. Johnson discusses the Voting Rights Act with King in January 1965. The act, part of President Johnson's "Great Society" program, trebled the number of black voters in the south, who had previously been hindered by racially inspired laws.


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  • King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, lead a civil rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery in March 1965. On the left (holding bottle) is American diplomat Ralph Bunche.


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  • King addresses a crowd in front of the Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama, following a voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, in March 1965.


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  • King listening to a transistor radio in the front line of the third march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to campaign for proper registration of black voters, on March 23, 1965. Among the other marchers are: Ralph Abernathy (1926 - 1990, second from left), Ralph Bunche (1903 - 1971, third from right) and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 - 1972, far right). The first march ended in violence when marchers were attacked by police. The second was aborted after a legal injunction was issued.


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  • King addresses civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, in April 1965.


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  • King speaks to reporters during a march en route to Jackson, Mississippi, on June 11, 1966.


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  • Watched by Dr. Charles Bousenquet, King signs the Degree Roll at Newcastle University after receiving an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree, Newcastle, England, on November 14, 1967.


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  • King speaks at a January 12, 1968 press conference for Clergy & Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, held at the Belmont Plaza Hotel, New York City. He announced the Poor People's March On Washington at this event.

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