Monday, February 7, 2011

Annotated Criminal Code Commentary on Canada's Blasphemy Provision

This brief post summarizes what some of the authors of annotated versions of Canada's Criminal Code have had to say about the country's statutory prohibition on blasphemous libel.

* Arthur W. Rogers, Tremeear's Annoated Criminal Code, 1929 (Calgary: Burroughs & Company, Ltd) (4th ed. 1929) at 222. Rogers notes that this provision first appeared in Section 170 of the original 1892 Criminal Code. The rest of his annotation consists of statements drawn from traditional English legal maxims on blasphemy law, citing cases such as Bradlaugh, Ramsay & Foote, and Bowman: "Publications which in an indecent and malicious spirit assail and asperse the truth of Christianity or of the Scriptures in language calculated and intended to shock the feelings and outrage the belief of mankind are punishable as blasphemous libels. But if the decencies of controversies are observed even the fundamentals of religion may be attacked without the right [sic] of being guilty of blasphemous libel. No justification of a blasphemous libel can be pleaded nor is argument as to its truth permitted." Citations, without discussion, are also given to some Canadian authorities such as R. v. Kinler and the E.J. Murphy's annotation to R. v. Sterry.

* A.E. Popple, Snow's Criminal Code of Canada (Toronto: Carswell) (5th edition 1939). Popple's annotation is much shorter than Rogers. He states that the definition of the offense is given in Rahard and Gott, and provides the same quotation as the first sentence of the rule quoted above. Popple also states that "The offence may be committed by written matter as well as by spoken words", citing Gott.

* Edward L. Greenspan & Marc Rosenberg, Martin's Annual Criminal Code 2006 (Aurora, Ont.: 2006). This annotation cross-references the blasphemous libel offense with the offenses of defamatory and seditious libel. It notes that "the term 'blasphemous libel' is not defined in the section" and concludes that "[t]his rather archaic section, if used, would, in all likelihood, be challenged under the Charter."

* Alan D. Gold, The Practitioner's Criminal Code, 2007 Edition (Markham, Ont.: 2006). Gold notes that "[t]his is a straight indictable offense. An accused can elect the mode of trial." (citing s. 536(2)). He also states that "[i]f ever prosecuted this section would be unlikely to survive a Charter challenge."

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