In the weeks preceding Halloween 2018 two women were arrested in Canada for pretending to practice witchcraft.
Even though practicing witchcraft as part of a religious movement such as Wicca is not illegal, doing so to scam people of their money and property could get Canadian citizens in jail.
As stated by BBC news, according to Section 365 of Canada’s Criminal Code, it is illegal to “fraudulently pretend to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration.” Breaking this law can result in a fine of CAN$2,000 and 6 months jail time. However, this law is about to be changed as some see it as outdated and harmful.
Dorie (Medina) Stevenson came to the attention of the Canadian authorities following reports that she was practicing deceitful witchcraft. She had tricked several people and obtained over CAN$60,000 by pretending to be a psychic and a witch.
Soon after, a 27-year-old woman using a stage name of Evanna Lopez was arrested for deceiving an elderly man. She made convinced him that he was under evil spells that she could help him get rid of.
In order to cleanse him of the misfortune that was following him, she demanded that he sold his property and transfer the money to her account.
He did so, transferring CAN$600,000 and believing her assurance that the money would reappear in his bank account once the spirit was vanquished.
When this did not happen, he contacted Lopez — who told him to transfer another CAN$6,000 that she would ritually burn will help seal off his trouble.
The investigation against the faux witch began in November 2017, however it was almost a year before the woman was arrested.
This law was not executed often throughout the 21st century.
There are only three more reported cases of it being applied. In 2017 Murali Muthyalu was arrested for taking CAN$100,000 to eliminate a curse. In 2012, a “healer” whose name is unknown to the public faced similar charges. And finally, Vishwantee Persaud was accused of practicing fake witchcraft in 2009. All the fraudulent witchcraft charges were dropped as the perpetrators pleaded guilty to charges of fraud.
The law is now under the spotlight and it will probably be soon eliminated, making the two arrested women the subjects of the last witch trial in Canada.
The archaic law is seen as rooted in the practice of excluding persons who upheld different beliefs. In the past it was mostly used against Roma people, Wiccans and various Eastern European immigrants who practiced palm reading and similar rituals.
According to the police reports, the arrests are not connected to any religious beliefs.
Resulting from these arrests the law has come under the spotlight for perpetuating discriminatory practices against minorities and women. As BBC News reporters Natascha Bakht and Jordan Palmer wrote “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.”
Contrary to Palmer and Bakht, Peter Van Loan, a retired conservative MP, does not see a problem in keeping the law as it is. He thinks that the efforts to eliminate it only represent modernization for the sake of it. Global News reports his statement: “Does that provision, as it exists right now, cause any harm? No. Does it give the police an avenue or resource in the case of those particular unusual offenses? Yes, it does.”
Monica Bordinsky, a Canadian witch, strongly condemns fraudulent activities but does not approve of associating witchcraft with crime. She shares for BBC news that the law is “a holdover from stereotypes and fears of witches being evil.”
Charging people of fraud would be enough to protect the potential victims and sanction such dangerous behavior.
This outdated law is a so-called zombie law, sitting alongside law that ban comics from portraying crime, erectile-drug advertising, clipping coins, provoking people to a duel, water skiing without a spotter, and trading stamps. All these laws are under debate and facing possible elimination from the Criminal Code.