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Duels, 'crime comics' and witchcraft: The battiest laws being scrubbed from the Criminal Code

Bill C-51 includes the repeal of what's known as "offences tending to corrupt morals," like advertising a drug claiming to restore "sexual virility."

As the law stand now, challenging your neighbour to a duel would be an indictable offence, and may get you up to two years in prison — or, perhaps, in the stocks.

TORSTAR NEWS SERVICES

As the law stand now, challenging your neighbour to a duel would be an indictable offence, and may get you up to two years in prison — or, perhaps, in the stocks.

OTTAWA — Would you like to challenge someone to a duel?

As things stand now, that would be an indictable offence and could get you up to two years behind bars — or, perhaps, in the stocks.

The Liberal government, however, is once again moving to clean up sections of the Criminal Code that are no longer relevant, or are already covered in other provisions that do not sound so anachronistic.

If the proposed legislation is passed, out would go section 71, which not only prohibits you from challenging someone to a duel, but also accepting that challenge from anyone, including that dastardly neighbour who refuses to trim his moustache.

Injuring someone with a weapon, even if it is a sword, would remain against the law. En garde!

Here are some other obsolete sections of the Criminal Code that Bill C-51 would repeal:

— Fraudulently pretending to practice witchcraft, tell fortunes for a fee or, use skills or knowledge in "an occult or crafty science," to find something that has been lost or stolen;

— Publishing a blasphemous libel;

— Issuing trading stamps;

— Advertising a reward for the return of stolen property, "no questions asked;"

Bill C-51 would also repeal some provisions of the Criminal Code known as "offences tending to corrupt morals."

These include:

— Printing, publishing, distributing or selling a "crime comic," a section under which a Manitoba comic book vendor was once convicted in the early 1950s for selling an issue of Dick Tracy;

— Offering to sell or advertise instructions, medicine or anything else intended to cause abortion or miscarriage;

— Advertising a drug represented as a way to restore "sexual virility," or curing sexually transmitted infections.

Not everything about Bill C-51 is old-fashioned, as the proposed legislation would also repeal or amend provisions of the Criminal Code that appellate courts have found to be unconstitutional.

Those measures include:

— Narrowing the definition of defamatory libel, as the existing provision was found to be so broad as to violate freedom of expression;

— Removing problematic evidentiary presumptions — or prosecutorial shortcuts — related to gambling, theft and possession of property obtained by crime, which the government said could lead to convictions despite reasonable doubt;

— Getting rid of some provisions that reverse the onus to prove or disprove something, which the government said can infringe the charter right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt;

— Removing the exception that having a previous conviction or breaching bail would bar someone from receiving, should circumstances and a judge allow it, an extra half-day credit for every day served in custody prior to conviction and sentencing.

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