Not because we’re living under the Stephen Harper Christofascist dictatorship, though. (Sorry, Michael Harris.) It’s actually a law that hasn’t been enforced successfully since 1935, but remains part of the Criminal Code of Canada:
Section 296 of the Criminal Code makes “blasphemous libel” punishable by up to two years in jail in Canada.
No one been prosecuted under the law since 1935. As late as 1980, the law was used to charge the Canadian distributor of Monty Python’s film Life of Brian; the charges were later dropped.
Only last month, the heads of Humanist Canada and the Centre for Inquiry, a national organization that promotes “skeptical, secular rational and humanistic inquiry,” met with Ambassador Andrew Bennett, head of the federal government’s Office of Religious Freedom, to note the law’s inconsistency with Canada’s policy of supporting religious freedom abroad.
Derek From, a lawyer for the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation warns that while the law may be dormant, it is not dead. Britain’s blasphemy law, for example, was considered “dead” until it resurfaced in 1977 when a pornographic magazine was charged with the offence for publishing gay poetry about Jesus.
“It is an open question whether the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of expression will offer any protection,” Mr. From wrote in a 2013 letter to Calgary-area MP and Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson. “This is a constitutional question that has never been tested.”
“The conservative right gets bents out of shape about hate speech provisions because they see it as an unconstitutional restriction of their freedom of expression. But that’s exactly what people who are [irreligious] would say about the blasphemy prohibitions — that they cannot say what they want without freedom of prosecution,” Mr. From said.
There’s no way the offence of “blasphemous libel” is compatible with a modern, democratic society, or constitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That said, if threats of violence will keep people and media outlets from publishing material some people find blasphemous, what difference does it really make?
(Note: needless to say, an image of “Piss-Christ” was easily found on the CBC website.)