Halloween is just around the corner, and lots of ghouls and goblins will be out on the streets collecting candy. However, if you’re planning to pretend to practice any witchcraft on that date, our best legal advice to you is … don’t. Believe it or not, you can be charged with pretending to practice witchcraft. Yes, fellow Harry Potters, pretending to practice witchcraft is a crime in Canada. And we’re not kidding.
Witchcraft is dealt with in Section 365 of Canada’s Criminal Code. It states that you are guilty of a summary offense – a minor crime – if you “fraudulently” do any of the following (and we’re quoting the actual law here with some slight editing):
- “Pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration.
- Undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes.
- 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.”
Note the use of the word “pretends”. That means, if you really are a witch or sorcerer, and aren’t just fooling around, you might be off the hook.
However, if you’re just pretending, you may be looking at up to a maximum of six months in prison.
Obviously, we’re having a bit of fun here, and this is one of the laws in the Criminal Code that could be considered antiquated and well past its prime. (Another section dealing with duelling as a crime is still on the books, too.)
Put it another way: your chances of being charged with witchcraft are terribly slim. One (albeit outdated) source even estimates that there are upwards of 10,000 practicing psychics in Canada. Prosecutions of those who are practicing psychics are rare.
Prosecuting Modern Day Witches in Canada
Just because prosecutions are rare, though, doesn’t mean that the law doesn’t get dusted off by police from time to time. In recent years, Canadians have been charged under Section 365:
- In 2012, a Toronto man was charged with falsely practicing witchcraft after he told a woman he could remove a family curse for $14,000.
- In 2010, a Brampton man was charged after taking money for witchcraft-related services at his home.
- In 2009, a Toronto woman was charged after taking $27,000 from a grieving Toronto lawyer after claiming she was possessed by the spirit of his dead sister.
So it still happens today: people are charged with falsely practicing witchcraft. So, if you plan on dressing up like a witch this Halloween, better make sure you’ve brushed up on your spell book. After all, you don’t need the legal hassle of facing accusations of being a false witch! But, if you do run into trouble call us by phone at 613-233-0008 or e-mail criminal defence lawyer Joshua Clarke at [email protected]