News & Events
Purging Criminal Code of defunct ‘zombie laws’ no simple task
Outdated offences that are still included in Canada’s Criminal Code include duelling, abortion and pretending to practise witchcraft
Given the epidemic of fake news and the influence it may have had on the U.S. election, Section 181 of Canada’s Criminal Code would seem particularly noteworthy.
The charge: spreading false news.
“Every one who wilfully publishes a statement, tale or news that he knows is false and that causes or is likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years,” it states.
Except, of course, it was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992 for violating the right to freedom of expression, and ever since has been, in legal terms, “of no force and effect.”
You wouldn’t know that, however, from the publicly available version of the Criminal Code on the government website.
“It doesn’t take much to think it’s kind of outrageous, that the government would say: ‘Here is the law of the land. Go look it up. Here online is the Government of Canada website saying the criminal law of Canada.’ And it’s wrong,” said Steve Coughlan, a criminal law professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Also still listed as offences: abortion, duelling, making and selling comic books that show crimes being committed, advertising Viagra, blasphemous libel and pretending to practise witchcraft.
Some of the offences are clearly archaic. Others were found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but remain in the Criminal Code as what legal experts call “zombie laws.”