Not dead, just sleeping: Canada's prohibition on blasphemous libel as a case study in obsolete legislation

Patrick, Jeremy (2008) Not dead, just sleeping: Canada's prohibition on blasphemous libel as a case study in obsolete legislation. University of British Columbia Law Review, 41 (2). pp. 193-248. ISSN 0068-1849


Since the first Criminal Code in 1892, Canada has had a law on the books prohibiting the publication of a 'blasphemous libel' The statute resulted in five reported prosecutions over the years, the last in 1935. Although it hasn't been used in over 70 years, dead laws don't always stay dead: England's prohibition on blasphemy, for example, was inert for 55 years before leading to a conviction in 1977 and Ireland's remained unused for 141 years before an (unsuccessful) prosecution was brought in 1996.
This article attempts to answer a few key questions about Canada's blasphemy law. First, what are the historical origins of the prohibition? Canada's law has been influenced heavily by British common law, but there are important differences as well. Second, is the prohibition really as vulnerable to a Charter attack as it first appears? Given a modernist recasting as a 'hate speech' prohibition, the law may have a surprising resistance to attack. Third, how should our legal system deal with obsolete legislation generally? The blasphemy law will be used as a case study in the application of the obscure doctrine of desuetude.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Published version deposited in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business - School of Law
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2013 11:56
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2015 23:31
Uncontrolled Keywords: blasphemy; blasphemous libel; desuetude
Fields of Research : 22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
18 Law and Legal Studies > 1801 Law > 180122 Legal Theory, Jurisprudence and Legal Interpretation
18 Law and Legal Studies > 1801 Law > 180119 Law and Society
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 94 Law, Politics and Community Services > 9404 Justice and the Law > 940407 Legislation, Civil and Criminal Codes

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