Groups representing Humanists, atheists and secularists across Canada are calling on the Government to repeal an outdated section of the criminal code penalizing so-called “blasphemous libel.”
The e-petition launched yesterday and was signed by over 1000 Canadians in the first day, more then double the minimum number required to be tabled in the House of Commons.
The petition argues the law is unconstitutional and “serves no purpose.” It points out that there have been no charges for blasphemy in Canada for over 35 years and no convictions in over 80 years. Meanwhile “authoritarian states” have used the existence of blasphemy laws in countries like Canada to justify their own clampdown on free expression.
Greg Oliver, President of the Canadian Secular Alliance initiated the petition in collaboration with Centre for Inquiry Canada and Humanist Canada. Oliver said, “The idea that certain subjects should be off limits from criticism or scrutiny has no place in a liberal democracy. Canada's blasphemy law needs to be repealed.”
Writer Raihan Abir, who claimed asylum in Canada after fleeing Bangladesh:
Just days ago we saw the famous Pakistani singer, Amjad Sabri, shot dead by the Taliban in Karachi for hurting religious belief by singing during Ramadan. But even before this act of extremism, he was first accused in a Pakistani court using their blasphemy law and a case was filled against him. He was then shot. As a human rights leader, why should Canada have the same law as Pakistan?
I watched my friends be murdered in Bangladesh for criticizing religion. I was afraid for my own life. By repealing this blasphemy law, Canada can send a signal to Bangladesh and every country that no one should be killed or sent to jail for what they write.
Ali Ehsassi, Liberal Member of Parliament for Willowdale, sponsored the petition. After the petition closes for signatures on October 20, 2016 it will be tabled in the House of Commons and require a response from the Government.
Organizations supporting the petition
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
This is the chance for every one of us to send a message to the world that Canadians and the Government of Canada values freedom of expression. While we have the luxury of speaking out, many do not. Bloggers around the world are being put in jail, lashed or murdered for criticizing ideas online. We must support free debate and repeal the blasphemy law.
Tom Henheffer, Canadian Journalists for Expression Executive Director:
Canada's blasphemous libel law is an outrageous relic, a clear violation of charter rights, and a completely unjustifiable chill on free expression in our country. Every good journalist and free expression defender is opposed to this archaic law, and it must be scrapped. The fact that it is unlikely to be used is no excuse to have criminal libel on the books in a western democracy. Even worse, Canada's blasphemous libel law gives a tragic comfort to despotic leaders around the world who use such regulations to jail free thinkers. It allows them to point to this Canadian statute as a shining justification for their choice forms of oppression.
To add a comment from your organization, email [email protected]
The petition is available at https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-382
- It has been eight decades since the last conviction under section
296, and thirty-five years since the last charge of blasphemous libel was
- Blasphemous libel serves no purpose in Canadian law or modern-day
society, and would likely be found to contravene section 2 of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression.
- In Canada and elsewhere, blasphemy laws have been abused to
suppress minorities and stifle inconvenient speech.
- Authoritarian states point to Canada’s blasphemous libel law to
defend their own laws criminalizing blasphemy.
- Repealing Canada’s blasphemy law would demonstrate, at home and
abroad, Canada’s commitment to the value of free speech for all.
- Freedom of expression is the foundational human right in our
society. Many others, including freedom of assembly and freedom of
conscience, are derived from freedom of expression.
We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, call upon the Government of
Canada to repeal section 296 (Blasphemous Libel) of the Canadian Criminal