OTTAWA, Ont. – In May 2017, a private members bill was read for the third time and passed by the House of Commons in Canada’s capitol city, Ottawa. If it is successful in becoming law, Bill C-305 could greatly change the way hate crime mischief offences are addressed by the Canadian Criminal Code.
The bill was proposed by Liberal Party member Chandra Arya, Member of Parliament (MP) for Nepean, Ontario. The purpose of the bill is to amend a sub-section of the criminal code which deals with damages to property due to crime motivated by hate based on religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability.
Canada’s Pagan, Heathen and Witchcraft groups are watching with interest to see if C-305 makes it to law, as the changes would provide enhanced protection from hate related mischief for these communitiesAt present, mischief relating to religious property only covers buildings, structures, or parts thereof primarily used for religious worship, including churches, mosques or synagogues. Hate-based mischief against such places can result in a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, compared to just two years for general mischief.
With the new law, the stiffer penalties could be dealt out for hate-based mischief in a larger range of cases.
The proposal seeks to expand the definition of what constitutes a property under the law. Bill C-305 would criminalize hate-based mischief aimed at schools, day care centres, colleges, universities, community centres, seniors residences and cultural centres in addition to the currently recognized places.
For Toronto-based Gythia and activist Jade Pichette, the scope and potential of Bill C-305 to enhance protection for Canadian Pagans is timely. “In many cases Pagans and Heathens in Canada don’t have physical spaces, increasingly though we are starting to have these spaces,” Pichette says.
“It is only a matter of time before there are attacks or mischief done upon them.”
Dedicated Pagan places of worship, ritual and gathering in Canada are still rare, but they do exist. Khaman and Alyx Mythwood are the owners and operators of Mythwood Campground. Located in Grey County, an hour and a half northwest of Toronto, this 61-acre facility offers private retreats, living history events, art, music and spirituality camps.
Known as “Pagan Paradise” by regulars, Mythwood and also Raven’s Knoll, another Ontario-based Pagan camp, would be covered by this proposed law. Khaman and Alyx Mythwood told The Wild Hunt, “As a nature and art sanctuary, and polytheistic sacred space, Mythwood Campground supports processes that promote tolerance and inclusivity.
“We are hopeful that Bill C-305 will help safeguard these basic human rights as a reminder of what brings us together as multicultural and multi-faith Canadians.”
But one question still remains: would Pagan shops, which often serve as temples, teaching places, and community centres, be protected if they were confirmed to be objects of hate-related mischief?
The bill as it is now written specifies that the property must be primarily used for religious worship, or used by an identifiable group as an educational institution, or for administrative, social, cultural or sports activities or events.
An argument could be made under this definition in defense of Pagan stores, but that still remains to be seen.
Fueling interest in this bill at the governmental level, are a number of recent hate-motivated incidents, such as the mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque last January, which touched rallies and vigils across the country.
There has also been an increase in the number of anti-semetic, racist, and anti-Muslim graffiti and vandalism attacks reported on places of worship and private residences from coast to coast.
Pichette addressed this, saying, “I am consistently concerned with the violence that seems to be targeting institutions.”
“I was personally in support of the original version of the bill that would provide added charges against those desecrating religious institutions as we have seen with the hate-based graffiti on Synagogues, Mosques, and other religious spaces.”
Further to this, Pichette wrote a letter to Parliament. and shared it on social media, encouraging other Pagans to do the same. The letter read:
Dear MP Dabrusin,
I would like to express my support of Bill C-305 to amend the criminal code regarding the mischief desecration of Religious items and places of worship. In this time of increasing attacks on Mosques, Jewish cemeteries, and other places of worship I am in full support.
As a note I was part of a project for Neo-Pagan and Heathen religious and spiritual groups to come together to decry bigotry in all of its forms. Including the desecration of places of worship. Though the organizations listed would not take a position necessarily on this specific bill, their declaration against such acts speaks to support of many peoples against these acts within my own faith community: http://pagandeclaration.com/
Active Constituent of Toronto Danforth
At this time, only religious institutions are protected under hate crime law, but this new proposal will also fully include LGBTQ communities.
In his speech before the House of Commons, in February, when the bill went for second reading, MP Arya said, “Bill C-305 would recognize that hate motivated by bias based on gender identity and sexual orientation would carry the same weight as crimes committed against religion, race, colour, national or ethnic origin.”
This added piece is of particular interest to Pichette, who adds: “This would mean a place like my workplace, the Canadian Lesbian + Gay Archives would receive better protection under the Criminal Code.”
Bill C-305 has been passed by the House of Commons, and will now proceed to the Senate. Presuming it receives Senate approval, it will be presented for Royal Assent, and then on to become law.
It is very unusual for private members bills to make it that far, but this one does have strong support across party lines.
The proposal of Bill C-305 marks a turning point in the attitude of some Canadian leaders. While it does not include every concern held by Pagan communities specifically, it does begin to address many concerns found in the general Canadian population.
In a May 3 speech acknowledging the proposed amendments to the bill, MP Arya stated: “While Bill C-305 would not solve every issue related to racism and discrimination, it would take important small steps in protecting those most vulnerable, strengthening the Criminal Code, and acting as a strong deterrent.”