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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious intolerance in Canada

Part 2: Conflict over Tarot cards in Toronto, ON

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This topic is continued from the previous page.

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Ms. Conover's reaction to her rejection by the Miss Toronto Tourism executive (Cont'd):

The Toronto Star newspaper reported:

" 'Some would call me a witch, yes. But we don't believe in the devil. 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 pageant."

"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'." 1

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. 2'

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, said:

"Its caused some confusion but it has nothing to do with us and we have nothing to do with them. All I can say is thats not how we market the city." 3

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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:

bullet 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 multiculturalism.

Why would we want that tarnished by the ignorance being displayed here, let alone endorse it with Toronto's name?

bulletSharon 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-02, which is Imbolc or Bride's Day.

bulletLesley 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.

bulletCelia 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 decision-making.

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 scripture.


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. 4


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Reactions from the local Neopagan community:

Neopagans in Toronto organized a protest at the Waterfront Radisson Admiral where the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant was held on the evening of 2008-FEB-02. One of the protest organizers, Tracey Hayes, said:

"Were going to have people from different religious organizations Christians, Muslims and Hindus as well as Wiccan groups. Were also mobilizing the gay community because we believe two of the organizers are members of an anti-gay organization. Were 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. Its about discrimination not Paganism. We have loads of people who are [both] Pagan and non-Pagan who are upset about this."

Rob Roberts, reporter for 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."

He responded:

'Ive received seven e-mails since Tuesday asking me to drop my sponsorship. I think the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Its their pageant so they can have whoever they want'." 3

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Webmaster's opinion: (bias alert)

From the pageant director's negative reaction to Wicca, tarot cards, Reiki, and yoga as well as her reference to fearing God, we suspect that she is a fundamentalist or other evangelical Christian. If so, then her faith might be at the source of the conflict, because many conservative Christians tend to hold very different beliefs when compared to religious liberals, secularists, and neo-pagans.

Many conservative Christians:

  • Have a well founded fear of God and of fear of transgressing God's expectations. As explained in the Bible, as literally interpreted, God has been directly responsible for either
    • Directly causing genocides -- as in the case of the flood of Noah -- or

    • Ordering the ancient Hebrews to commit genocide against other tribes -- as in the almost complete annihilation of the Canaanite's.

  • Believe that Wicca is a Satanic religion, a form of Witchcraft.

  • Further believe that Wiccans engage in Black Magic using occult methods to issue curses against people they wish to harm.

As our section on Wicca indicates, these beliefs are tied closely to medieval myths circulated by the Christian Church back in the Middle Ages. In reality, Wicca is a Neopagan religion created recently and is a reconstructed faith based on ancient Celtic beliefs. The Wiccan Rede forbids Wiccans from using magic in a way that harms or manipulates others. There is no Satan-like character in Wicca as there is in Christian and Islam.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jim Byers, "Beauty queen not fit to be judge: Pageant," The Toronto Star, 2008-JAN-28, at:
  2. "Snubbed Canadian Queen comes out of the broom closet," The Wild Hunt, 2008-JAN-27, at:
  3. Rob Roberts Toronto pagans target beauty pageant over snub to wiccan," 2008-JAN-31, at:
  4. "The ugly side of beauty: Letters to the editor," The Toronto Star, 2008-JAN-29, at:

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Copyright 2008 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2008-FEB-01
Latest update: 2014-SEP-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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