Annual Survey of International & Comparative Law


Jeremy Patrick


Canada has always outlawed blasphemy. From the earliest days of the New France period, through the era of “Upper” and “Lower” Canada, past Confederation and the eventual enactment of the original Criminal Code, and still today, blasphemy has been considered a criminal offence in the Canadian legal system. However, this prohibition, whether expressed through common law or statute, has rarely been enforced through actual prosecution. In the 117 years since the Criminal Code was enacted, its prohibition on blasphemous libel has been enforced only five times in reported cases. A study of the Criminal Code provision and these five prosecutions provides valuable information on the legal treatment of blasphemy throughout Canadian history. However, it reveals little about what the criminalization of blasphemy meant to people other than lawyers and judges. The purpose of this article is to analyze the Canadian prohibition of blasphemy in the context of what it meant historically to journalists, theologians, politicians, and activists in the first half of the Twentieth Century when the majority of prosecutions occurred. Section II of this Article provides an in depth look at Canada’s most famous blasphemy prosecution, that of Eugene Sterry in 1927. Section III of this article covers Woodsworth’s bill, the last serious attempt to decriminalize blasphemy in Canada. Section IV provides a brief look at two Quebec-based public movements that were against the perceived social evil of blasphemy: Le ligue contre le blasphème (1926); and a more informal campaign led by future Governor General Georges Vanier (1942). By examining the context surrounding the prohibition of blasphemy, this Article sheds light on how non-legal actors have understood or used the law throughout Canadian history.

Included in

Other Law Commons