In late 2015, Britain’s lawmakers planned to repeal more than 200 outdated laws, including bans on wood-hauling and “handling salmon under suspicious circumstances.”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.”