Blog 085: Cleaning Up the Criminal Code of Canada

David Rand

2017-06-16

Help us find an MP to sponsor our petition

We have recently had excellent news: The Canadian law which bans blasphemy will probably be repealed very soon! To be precise, it is section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada entitled “Blasphemous Libel.” Draft Bill C-51 introduced by the federal government would clean up several aspects of the Criminal Code and, among its numerous provisions, is the repeal of section 296.

We at Atheist Freethinkers have on numerous occasions called for the repeal of this ridiculous old law. In February 2015, in the aftermath of the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, we declared that, instead of self-censorship out of “respect” for beliefs which deserve none, we must instead eliminate formally and definitively the legal aberration which criminalizes “blasphemy” everywhere throughout the world, starting with Canada, in order to strengthen freedom of expression. In August of that year, I participated, as president of AFT, in a panel discussion on the subject of blasphemy held at a convention for non-believers in Ontario. In the talk I delivered there, I explained that blasphemy laws represent an unjust privilege granted to religions, and I also denounced Quebec’s Draft Bill 59 which would have constituted a sort of anti-blasphemy law at the provincial level.

In March of 2016, we published a press release reminding politicians that, in their response to Islamist terrorism, they have a duty to name the guilty party frankly and forthrightly, that is, political Islam, and that their response must also include the repeal of any and every law which limits freedom of expression, such as section 296 of the Criminal Code. We made a similar point in a blog published in April of 2016. More recently, in late March 2017, in a talk I delivered as part of Days of Atheism in Waraw, Poland, I underlined once again the importance of repealing section 296.

So it is with enthusiasm that we salute this recent move to repeal the anti-blasphemy law. It is the result of a petition on the Parliament of Canada web site, petition e-382, initiated by Greg Oliver of Toronto in June 2016, supported by the efforts of MP Ali Ehsassi (Willowdale, Liberal) who sponsored the petition. As did several other organizations, we encouraged our members and sympathizers to sign.

The repeal of section 296 represents an excellent starting point. But it is only a start. Much work remains to be done in order to secularize Canadian federal legislation—not to mention all the privileges which religions enjoy in provincial legislation as well.

As regards blasphemy, motion M-103 recently adopted by the Canadian parliament represents a serious threat to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. This motion, although it does not have force of law, bodes ill for the future. As I pointed out in a previous blog, the motion’s title and text “blithely conflate racism with religious discrimination, as if the two were synonyms, when in fact they are completely different.” In fact, this motion represents a victory for Islamofascist propaganda. Thus, “if Islamists and their dupes continue their efforts in the same direction, we can expect to see a new law which will recriminalize blasphemy. And that new law will be much worse, much more dangerous than section 296 because it will apply to one religion in particular, Islam, to the detriment of all others, thus creating inequalities which will inevitably lead to interreligious resentments and conflicts.” We must demand that our MPs in the Parliament of Canada repudiate this motion which they so imprudently adopted—no doubt because they were intimidated into doing so.

As for the Criminal Code of Canada, there remains at least one section which concedes an undeserved privilege to religions and which compromises the freedom of conscience of all Canadian citizens. I am referring to the religious exception in the law against Hate Propaganda, that is line 319(3)b) to be precise, which grants religions impunity if the speech which would otherwise be considered hateful expresses “an opinion based on a belief in a religious text.” This provision implies a privilege granted to believers—to the detriment of non-believers who have no religious text which could be used as a defence.

Evidently we of the association AFT want this religious exception removed, that is, line 319(3)b) repealed. We have prepared a petition (e-763) to that effect and placed it on the Parliament of Canada web site. Here is the text of that petition:

PETITION TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

WHEREAS the Criminal Code of Canada, in section 319 on Hate Propaganda, forbids the incitement of hatred against any identifiable group;

WHEREAS section 319 also contains several exceptions and, in paragraph 319(3)b), stipulates in particular that “No person shall be convicted of an offence” for having expressed “an opinion based on a belief in a religious text”;

WHEREAS the texts of several major world religions include statements which denigrate and promote hatred against non-believers, women, homosexuals or certain ethnic or racial groups, statements which sometimes call for violence, even deadly violence;

WHEREAS religions constitute therefore a major cause of hate propaganda against several groups;

AND WHEREAS the freedom of religion of some must not take precedence over the fundamental rights of others and must never, in any way, threaten either the physical integrity or the lives of members of groups targeted by the hateful declarations in these religious texts.

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS OF CANADA CALL UPON THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

TO repeal the religious exception in the Hate Propaganda legislation, that is, repeal paragraph 319(3)b) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

If you would like to sign this petition, unfortunately you cannot, at least not yet, because in order to activate it and make it public on the Parliament of Canada web site, we need an MP to sponsor it. We have already asked Mario Beaulieu of the Bloc Québécois and Harold Albrecht of the Conservative Party, but neither replied within the 30-day period allotted. We then asked Ali Ehsassi of the Liberal Party, the same MP who sponsored the petition against section 296, but at the time of writing he has not yet responded to our request.

If you can suggest an MP who might be willing to help us in this matter, we ask that you contact us and give us your suggestion. We thank you in advance.

It is very important to continue this work of removing religious privilege from legislation. The freedom of conscience of all citizens is at stake. Religions must not be allowed to continue taking advantage of the impunity which they have enjoyed for far too long. They do not deserve it. And we Canadians deserve better.

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