PEN Canada Supports Repeal of Blasphemy Law

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PEN Canada Supports Repeal of Blasphemy Law

TORONTO, June 28, 2017 – PEN Canada today announced its support for the federal government’s decision to repeal Section 296 (blasphemous libel) of the Canadian Criminal Code. Last used in 1935, the law treats blasphemy as an indictable offence punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently stated that the Liberal government will get rid of the section along with other antiquated ”zombie laws” which remain in the Criminal Code despite being rendered obsolete by Supreme Court rulings.

“The repeal of this law will shield Canada from charges of hypocrisy when groups like ours denounce the denial of religious freedom abroad – a freedom which must include the right not to practice religion.” said Richard Stursberg, President of PEN Canada.

Blasphemy laws remain active in 55 countries. In 2013, a report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union found that blasphemy or apostasy is a capital offence in 13 countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

PEN Canada reserves comment on other sections of Bill C-51 – under which blasphemous libel will be repealed – including privacy concerns arising from the expanded breadth of the federal government’s security information disclosure powers.