Religious intolerance in Canada
Toronto-2008: Religious bigotry at a beauty pageant
Organizers of the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant for 2008 invited
Stephanie Conover, 23, (Miss
Canada Plus 2007) to be one of their judges.
In an unusual show of religious
bigotry, they later decided that she was unfit to serve as a judge because of
her hobbies. Director of the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant notes that hers is a
private organization, receives no government funds and thus can discriminate on
any grounds that they wish. Public reaction to their decision was intensely
Ms Connors is the first known beauty queen who is openly Neopagan .
Stephanie Conover was crowned Miss Canada Plus 2007.
The Miss Canada Plus Pageant
(MCCP) celebrates "women with real curves" and is held annually in Toronto ON for plus
sized women. It is believed to be the first and only pageant of its kind, and is
intended "to inspire plus-size women to recognize their external and internal
beauty, by encouraging wellness and empowerment through a sense of recognition,
inclusion and acceptance in the world of fashion and beauty."
Ms. Conover agreed to a request from the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant
to be a judge on 2008-FEB-02. On JAN-21, they asked her for her biography. She
"I told them everything I do, how I'm an entertainer and a singer and a
dancer. I talked about my charity work and I said I also have hobbies,
including songwriting, knitting, painting, yoga, reiki and tarot cards."
Her hobbies include:
|Yoga, that was "developed in ancient India to unify body and mind with
universal spirit, thereby encouraging physical and mental well-being. Most
commonly, it involves a series of stretching postures (called asanas), breathing
exercises, and meditative practices." 3
Many practitioners believe that it increases bodily
flexibility, improves their muscle tone, and reduces stress.|
|Reiki is pronounced "ray-kee." It means "universal life energy" in
Japanese. It is a healing technique developed in the 19th century by Dr.
Mikao Usui and involves a practitioner moving their hands gently in specific
positions either on or above their client's body. According to practitioner Kathy
McConnell, "It has nothing to do with Religion and can be practiced by all.
You can use it on family, friends, pets."
|Tarot cards are a set of 78 playing cards that contain pictures and
symbols. They are used by fortunetellers and others in an attempt to predict the future.|
Karen Murray, Miss Toronto Tourism pageant director is reported as saying:
"We just got her bio a week ago and we don't agree with it. We want
someone down to earth, not someone into the dark side or the
Ironically, Ms. Conover is a follower of Wicca,
the largest of many Earth-centered Neopagan
religions. So, she is probably more "down to earth" than most Canadians
Murray did not know Conover's religious affiliation at the time.
According to the Toronto Star, on JAN-24, Murray and another official wrote
to the Miss Canada Plus group stating:
"We need a judge who has an upright reputation and we would be proud to
introduce to the audience ... Our board of directors has eliminated her as a
judge as tarot card reading and reiki are the occult and is [sic] not acceptable
by God, Jews,
Muslims or Christians.
Tarot card reading is witchcraft and is used by
witches, spiritists and mediums to consult the dark world."
The letter continued with a couple of quotations from the Bible including:
Leviticus 19:31 "Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek
after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God. (King James
The letter concluded:
"We hope that Stephanie Conover will turn from these belief systems and
will repent from her practice of them."
Many evangelicals and other conservative Protestants believe that Tarot card
players are occultists
who contact demons who are under the control of Satan. GotQuestions.org states:
"The word 'familiar' is from the Latin familiaris, meaning a 'household
servant,' and is intended to express the idea that sorcerers had spirits as
their servants ready to obey their commands. Those attempting to contact the
dead, even to this day, usually have some sort of spirit guide who
communicates with them. These are familiar spirits."
"Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:9-14 refer to 'mediums and
familiar spirits' and forbids being involved in them, as a they are an
abomination to the Lord. The medium was one who acted as a 'go-between' to
supposedly contact or communicate with the dead, but in reality they were
contacting demons who convinced the mediums that they were 'familiar' and
could be trusted and believed. The practices associated with mediums and
familiar spirits were banned in Israel, and the punishment for practicing
such things was death."
"To this day, familiar spirits (demons) are under the control of their
master, Satan. They influence people to spread
lies and deceit in order to thwart the kingdom of God."
Polling data from the U.S. shows a wide gap among Christians concerning
the existence of Satan: 75% of Roman Catholics reject Satan as a living being';
55% of Protestants do. 6 Among
the general public, those who regard Satan as a mythical being outnumber those
who believe he is a living entity by about a 2:1 ratio. Even more Americans
are believed reject the concept of demonic beings. Essentially all mental health
professionals reject their existence. These values are believed to be even higher in
Canada because of the larger percentage of Roman Catholics, secularists,
Agnostics, Atheists, etc. in the country.
Ms. Conover's reaction to the rejection:
Ms. Conover said that she was stunned by the letter. The Toronto Star
" 'I was fuming. They said tarot cards are the occult and that I use them
to commune with dark forces,' which she insisted is not the case. 'They're
completely benign. I use them for healing, to give guidance. You can buy
tarot cards at Chapters or the CNE'."
"She also said reiki is a well-known Japanese healing system that allows
people to transfer positive energy to a sick person. 'It definitely goes
against convention, sure, but anything that helps avoid use of prescription
drugs is a bonus, I think'."
"Conover said she practices Wicca, which to
some means she's a witch. But she said the Miss Toronto Tourism people
didn't know that and that they based their rejection of her on tarot cards
" 'Some would call me a witch, yes. But we don't believe in the
There's no devil in Wicca. We believe whatever you send out, good or bad,
comes back to you three times. Ninety per cent of those who practice
witchcraft or Wicca do it for the betterment of themselves or others. It's a
religion and we're trying to get it recognized by higher-ups in government."
"Conover said she also promotes diversity and multiculturalism as her
mother is black and her father is white. Murray insisted Conover is 'trying
to stir up trouble' by raising the issue in the press. 'She's obviously a
very vindictive person,' she said. Murray said her [own] group doesn't get
government funding and has the right to decide who acts as a judge in their
"Asked if her group is a religious one, Murray replied, 'We adhere to
God's principles. We're God-fearing. I wouldn't say we're religious'."
"Conover said she's looking into challenging the Miss Toronto Tourism
pageant in court, or at a human rights tribunal."
" 'They said they wouldn't be proud to introduce me and that I don't present
an upstanding character. I'm a very open-minded person and a very loving
person. To say I'm not of upright character, it's blasphemous'."
Jason Pitzl-Waters, a Neopagan, interviewed a pageant director identified as
Karen Hunter for his "The Wild Hunt" blog. He wrote:
" 'We are not a religious pageant,' director Karen Hunter assures me. She
says folks of many backgrounds will be at the waterfront Radisson Admiral
hotel on the big night. 'We don't want to offend anybody.'
However, it seems that the pageant already has offended Neopagans and those
who support religious diversity and religious tolerance.
Andrew Weir, vice president of the unrelated organization Tourism Toronto,
"It’s caused some confusion but it has nothing to do with us and we have
nothing to do with them. All I can say is that’s not how we market the
Reactions from the public:
The Toronto Star newspaper published five letters to the editor about the Conover
incident. All were highly critical of the intolerance shown by the pageant:
|Dawn L. Rogers, Toronto: I'm disheartened to see that
narrow-mindedness and religious intolerance are
still alive and, apparently, thriving in Toronto. For years we have been
trying to increase understanding and acceptance toward other races,
religions, cultures – differences in general.
To read that tarot cards and reiki are considered part of the occult
simply tells me how uninformed Karen Murray, Miss Toronto Tourism pageant
director, actually is. I embrace many of the philosophies of Wicca, such as
respecting our environment, doing good deeds, harming no one and respecting
all people, regardless of religion. These philosophies are very similar to
Christian, Jewish and Muslim philosophies as well.
Is Miss Toronto Tourism an organization with which Stephanie
Conover would want to be affiliated? God-fearing is one thing; respecting
people and their religious differences is obviously something Murray and her
colleagues do not embrace.
I don't think this is the type of pageant I would want Toronto to be
endorsing, regardless of whether there is no government funding. We are a
country known for our respect for human rights; we are a city known for its
Why would we want that tarnished by the ignorance being displayed here,
let alone endorse it with Toronto's name?
|Sharon Rose, Toronto: If we already thought beauty pageants were irrelevant, they have since
slid right past anachronistic on to defamatory. Miss Toronto Tourism
official Karen Murray is making a mockery of an already questionable
institution. Her suggestion that tarot cards are used to contact dark,
occult forces would be funny if it weren't laced with religious prejudice.|
Stephanie Conover is justified in bringing this discrimination into the
light. The right to practice religion, spirituality or personal growth is
being compromised by prejudices that supposedly disappeared with the rack
and thumb screws.
As an aside, it is interesting that the pageant is being held on a Wiccan
holiday, Feb. 2, which is Imbolc or Bride's Day.
|Lesley Law, Whitby: I was shocked by the comments attributed to Miss Toronto Tourism director
Karen Murray. Her comments about the Wiccan faith were inaccurate and reeked of
intolerance. If anyone in this story is being 'vindictive,' it is Murray.|
While she is entitled to disagree with Stephanie Conover's views, she should
not be allowed to bar her as a pageant judge. I had hoped that the days of
religious persecution – in Toronto at least – were over.
|Celia Featherby, Toronto: Anyone who uses biblical quotes as a means to exclude an individual from
participating in an event that is intended to be inclusive has demonstrated
their own lack of suitability for a position of responsibility and
All of Karen Murray's Christian outrage further marginalizes her. It's a
beauty pageant, for goodness' sake. Give your head a shake or get a tarot
reading to find out why benign differences make you angry enough to quote
|Mike Lieberman, Aurora: I certainly hope Miss Toronto Tourism pageant director Karen Murray will be
true to her word in adhering to "God's principles" and reject the "occult" by
taking care not to publicize the pageant nor expect people to read about it in
any dangerously pagan newspaper that promotes those equally anti-religious
astrological horoscopes. 8|
Reactions from the local Neopagan community:
Neopagans in Toronto are organizing a protest at the Waterfront Radisson
Admiral where the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant will be held on the
evening of 2008-FEB-02. One of the protest organizers, Tracey Hayes, said:
"We’re going to have people from different religious organizations —
Christians, Muslims and Hindus — as well as Wiccan groups. We’re also
mobilizing the gay community because we believe two of the organizers are
members of an anti-gay organization. We’re getting support from right across
the country. This is a human rights violation."
Michael Makaid, an organizer of the Toronto Pagan Conference, said:
"We were shocked that a non religious beauty pageant that supports
multiculturalism would do this. As a Torontonian that enrages me. It’s about
discrimination not Paganism. We have loads of people who are Pagan and non
Pagan who are upset about this."
Rob Roberts of the National Post newspaper wrote:
"Ralph Hamelmann, who runs The Psychic Brunch, said 16 of 18
sponsors have withdrawn their sponsorship of the pageant. Of the two
remaining, Alfredo DiGenova, general manager of Adrenalin Fitness, has no
plans now to withdraw despite pressure. 'I’ve received seven e-mails since
Tuesday asking me to drop my sponsorship. I think the whole thing is blown
out of proportion. It’s their pageant so they can have whoever they want'."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Miss Canada Plus Pageant," has its home page at:
- Jim Byers, "Beauty queen not fit to be judge: Pageant," The Toronto Star,
- "Glossary of complementary medicine terms," Connecting with Healers, at:
- Kathy McConnell, "Reiki healing path," at:
- "What are familiar spirits," GodQuestions.org, at:
- "Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View,"
Barna Group, 2002-OCT-08, at:
- "Snubbed Canadian Queen comes out of the broom closet," The Wild Hunt,
- "The ugly side of beauty: Letters to the editor," The Toronto Star,
- Mike Strobel, "Miss Toronto Tourism pageant dumps beauty queen as a judge --
I guess it just wasn't in the cards," Toronto Sun, 2007-JAN-27, at:
- Rob Roberts Toronto pagans target beauty pageant over snub to wiccan,"
Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 2008-FEB-01
Latest update: 2008-FEB-02
Author: B.A. Robinson