“Witchcraft” Charges in Toronto | Vol. 4 / No. 23.2

Because lying to people and taking their money is fraud | Photo: clairewinterphotography, CC BY 2.0

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I remember when I was growing up in Canada, you’d occasionally see commercials for dial-up psychics, things like Miss Cleo and the like. But they’d always end with someone saying (really quickly) “for entertainment purposes only.”

And you know why? Because in a lot of places, it’s illegal.

Now, the illegal part of it isn’t, thankfully, the “occult” part—at least not in Canada. Despite the recent headline in The Toronto Star, “Police lay witchcraft charges after Toronto man billed $101,000 for evil spirit removal,” the problem isn’t that the law thinks they’re actually practicing “witchcraft” either. The problem is section 365 of the Criminal Code:

Pretending to practise witchcraft, etc.

365 Every one who fraudulently

(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,

(b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or

(c) 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,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

In other words, it’s illegal to bilk people out of their money by pretending to be a psychic or a sorceror or what-have-you, and that’s exactly what “Master Raghav” is being charged with.

And it’s what the telephone psychics would likely be charged with if they didn’t say it was all for fun at the end of their commercials.

Unfortunately, the law as written doesn’t seem to cover grief vampires like the Long Island Medium or the Hollywood Medium, who purport to speak to the dead and whose so-called abilities can be entirely explained through (a) research ahead of time, (b) cold reading, and (c) creative editing of footage (even if they were in Canada). But I’ll take what I can get.

The fewer charlatans out there taking people’s money in their times of need, the better.

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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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