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"Witchcraft" in the
Canadian Criminal Code

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The law:

Section 365 of the Canadian Criminal Code, R.S. 1985,c.C-46 is one of a group of five offenses which deal with false pretenses. It states:

"Every one who fraudulently

      (a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, 

      (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or

      (c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction." 1

Section 361 defines a false pretence:

(1) "A false pretence is a representation of a matter of fact either present or past, made by words or otherwise, that is known by the person who makes it to be false and that is made with a fraudulent intent to induce the person to whom it is made to act on it."

(2) "Exaggerated commendation or depreciation of the quality of anything is not a false pretence unless it is carried to such an extent that it amounts to a fraudulent misrepresentation of fact." 2

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Meaning of the law:

The term "summary conviction" means that the offense is minor, vaguely like a misdemeanor in the U.S. The maximum penalty is $500.00 in Canadian dollars (about $530 in U.S. funds in 2007-NOV) and/or six months in jail.

From a Wiccan standpoint, there are two key words in this law: fraudulently and pretends. An offense is committed only when both of the following are present:

bullet A person displays an intent to defraud. That implies that something is lost in the exchange -- typically money or some tangible asset. 
bullet A person does not actually engage in some Wiccan practice, but only pretends to do so.

There is a long-standing tradition that Wiccans do not charge for their services, whether it is the creation of a spell or the teaching of an educational course. If a Wiccan were to follow this rule, then there is little probability that they could legitimately be charged under the law.

The law seems to be unevenly applied. Most newspapers contain advertisements by psychics; 900 lines are promoted on television; psychic fairs are periodically held in most large cities. One source estimates that there are in excess of 10,000 practicing psychics in Canada. 3 Prosecutions are rare. One charge was made against a psychic who allegedly accepted large sums of money to remove a curse from a gullible victim. 4  He was acquitted. However, as long as the law is on the books, there is the potential for police misuse of the legislation. 

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  1. "Criminal Code, Part IX," Federation of Law Societies of Canada, at: 
  2. "Consolidated statutes of Canada," at: 
  3. Rob McConnell, "Telling fortunes in Canada is against the law and is found in Article 365 of the Criminal Code," 'X' Chronicles, at: 
  4. " 'Satish Jaitly' charged with 'Pretending to practice Witchcraft," at: link is no longer active

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Copyright 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-24
Latest update: 2007-NOV-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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