Canada's Blasphemy Law and Freedom of Expression in Calgary

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Canada's Blasphemy Law and Freedom of Expression in Calgary

A recent editorial in the Calgary Herald points out the unusual fact that Canada still has an anti-blasphemy law on the books: if you mock, ridicule, misrepresent, or otherwise degrade the Christian concept of God, Jesus, or other trappings of the Christian religion, you are technically guilty of a crime.

Setting aside the problem that there is no one "Christian" view of God, Jesus, etc., and the fact that there are several dozen (possibly even hundreds) of other religions represented in the panoply of Canada's diverse population (not to mention many non-religious Canadians as well), this law is a major problem. It flies in the face of the guaranteed freedom of religion and freedom of expression—and freedom of expression about religion—guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Of course, this law hasn't been used in decades, and plenty of blasphemy (if you want to call it that) can be found in many forms of popular media. But, as the author of the editorial points out, having this law around allows for the possibility that it will be invoked should an overzealous public official or even a private citizen here in Calgary decide to become Canada's religious police.

While the criminal defence lawyer in me would love to have that case land on my desk on balance I'd rather not see such an egregious overstep of government censorship and religious meddling in the first place.

The law as written also raises an interesting question about our current Conservative government and its stance towards "outsiders" and anyone throughout Canada who is seen as different from the norm. Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke out about the importance of freedom of expression ten years ago when the publication of cartoons mocking Islam and its key prophet Mohammed were published in newspapers around the world, including several Canadian papers—an act decried by many Muslims around the world as a crime against their religion.

Harper's defence of Canadian publication's right to reproduce the cartoons was one of the rare moments when I found myself in agreement with our PM, even as he demurred in regards to the rectitude and propriety of the reprint.

One wonders, though, if he would have been so vocal in his support of publications similarly denigrating the Christian religion with front-page cartoons of a deliberately inflammatory nature. The author of the Herald's editorial worries that the anti-blasphemy law could be expanded to restrict expression critical of the Muslim religion and Islamic customs; my fear is that the law could be used as yet another cudgel of the intolerant, bigoted, and afraid.

Defending Expression and Calgary's Accused Criminals, One Case At a Time

While I haven't taken on a blasphemy case just yet, I have spent years defending a diversity of Calgary-area residents against a multitude of criminal charges. If you want a defence lawyer who treats all clients and cases with the vigor, care, and commitment to fair play that they deserve, please contact me today for a free consultation.