Quebec considering blasphemy law

September 17, 2015 • 2:00 pm

O Canada! What is happening to you? Perhaps this has been in the works for some time, but it was new to me.  Kyle Shileder at  reports that mischief is afoot in Quebec:

The Quebec Parliament is currently debating whether to pass Bill 59, a bill that would grant the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) the authority to investigate so-called “hate speech”, even without a complaint being filed.

The Head of the QHRC, Jacques Frémont has already openly said that he plans to use such powers, “to sue those critical of certain ideas, ‘people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page’” according to Canada’s National Post.

Two years ago, the Canadian Parliament abolished “hate speech” conveyed by the Internet or telephone as part of human rights laws. Why this step backwards? It appears, as suggested above, to be a reaction to the misguided efforts to protect criticism of Islam. How dare Frémont single out Islam and ignore other faiths? There’s further evidence:

Marc Lebuis, the Director of Point de Bascule, which publishes research and information on the threat posed to Canada by Islamist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, pointed out in his testimony before the Quebec Parliament that this resurrection is motivated in part by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

What Mr. Frémont did not tell Radio-Canada when he alluded to these UN resolutions on December 2, 2014 is that they originally came from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the OIC, that claims equivalence between hate speech, blasphemy, criticism of Islam and defamation of religions.

Lebuis is rightly aware that Quebec’s proposed law will not be applied uniformly just as Section 13 [the section overturned in 2013] was not. In 2008, Lebuis filed a complaint against an Imam whose writings lauded beheading and exterminating homosexuals, denigrated Jews, and called for violent jihad in any place Muslims had the power to overthrow non-Muslim rule.

The Human Rights Commission declined to hear the case.

Let us make no mistake about it: it is odious for any democracy to prohibit criticism of any religion, be it Christianity, Islam, or Scientology. Such a prohibition is contrary to Enlightenment principles and inimical to social progress. “Hate speech” is often a euphemism for “criticism of religion,” or even “criticism of ideas I don’t like.” Yes, there can be genuine hate speech, like that uttered by the Imam above, but I don’t believe any of it should be banned unless it calls for imminent violence.

That’s the way the U.S. operates—or is supposed to. Is there any reason why our enlightened neighbor to the north shouldn’t follow suit? Not that I see. Fortunately, the saner Canadians are raising serious questions about this bill (see here, here, and here). Even some Canadian Muslims, peace be upon them, feel that the bill is unnecessary. Let us hope it dies a quiet death.

Here’s a map showing where blasphemy is criminalized. Black means you can be executed for it, red means you can be imprisoned for it, orange means you can be fined for it, and yellow means there are local restrictions on blasphemy. France and Australia—seriously?


76 thoughts on “Quebec considering blasphemy law

  1. Sheer madness. There is a war and it seems like the secularists are folding to the religionists and mostly to islam.

      1. “the secularists are folding to the religionists”

        The secularists are not folding to the religionists:

        Please see the video of the members of the “The Panel of Blasphemy” at the Non-conference discuss blasphemy laws in Canada. The first speaker, David Rand, President of Atheist Freethinkers, discusses Bill 59. Google “Blasphemy laws discussed from a Canadian point of view” for the video.

        The Rassemblement Pour la Laïcité (RPL) is scheduled to speak against Bill 59 in front of the Quebec National Assembly on September 22nd.

        1. What a refreshing video. Thanks.
          I hope these views are shared widely in Quebec.

          I note too that it’s resolution goes up to 4K. First I’ve seen on Youtube.(I can’t stream that fast. Yet)

  2. Some years ago ,when ‘bullying’ was the hot topic, some people (including wendy Kaminer) pointed out the danger of these proposed rules. The general response, especially among liberals was “how can you support bullying, we need these laws”, yet these have become the bases of all sorts of threats to free speech.

    In any list of logical fallacies, you’re likely to find ‘slippery slope’ listed among them. However when it comes ot law, slippery slope is a real threat. These things need to be fought before they become big.

    1. Would you therefore say that, in the absence of any sort of bully control, the appropriate response to bullying is to bully back at the bully with equal if not greater force? Surely it is not a satisfactory solution for the victim of bullying to silently, indefinitely take it on the chin.

  3. If this goes through, then Canada’s Eh!-theists should do everything they can to take religion down with the help of this bill. Believers are not the only ones who can be offended. They’d do well to remember that.

    1. Québécois like to think of themselves as having a distinct culture / country. I’m starting to accept that point of view.

    1. I’ve observed here in the U.S. that it is customary/expected (required? mandatory?) for audiences to stand during the “Hallelujah” chorus of Handel’s “Messiah.” I’m sure not a few don’t know why they’re supposed to stand, but do so in order not to attract attention to themselves (much as with saying the pledge of allegiance). (I’ve heard the tale of King George happening to have stood up at that moment [had he given himself a wedgie?], and when the king stands all stand, eh?)

      (Find myself contemplating whether I ought to stand if, e.g., Bill Gates, or Mark What’s-His-Name, of Facebook fame, enters a room.)

      1. In Japan, as I understand it, one bows to another more or less deeply depending on relative status. If someone earning a much higher salary enters the room, you would make sure you bent farther toward the floor than the wealthier person. In the case of Bill Gates perhaps…well, how low can you go?

  4. Quebec has a rather troubled history with its non-Catholic, non-Francophone religious minorities. While this sort of restriction is absurd, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the law go the other way…

    1. Yet Quebec is highly secular – one of Canada’s most secular provinces so this law is ridiculous coming from Quebec.

      1. Yet again when Quebec tried to remove religious symbols in public institutions they mandated the crucifix in the National Assembly to be excepted; when this was called out, the answer was that it was “traditional”.

        As a born-and-raised Montrealer, Quebec’s secularism is variable, as far as I can tell. It is certainly *very* different in rural and smaller communities than it is in Montreal, as far as I can tell, which is drastically larger and much more ethnically diverse than anywhere else (though there are a fair number of Vietnamese and Arabs in Gatineau now, for example).

  5. You think France and Australia are bad? Check out the colour of New Zealand! We still have a blasphemy law that means you can go to jail for up to two years.

    It’s only been used once (1922), and that was unsuccessful, but it’s a major embarrassment that it even exists.

    People tried to use it again in the 1990s over the display of a couple of supposedly blasphemous artworks, but human rights legislation trumped its use. That should always be the case, but we don’t have a constitution so it relies on us retaining a secular government.

    We’ve recently got a law designed to stop on-line bullying, but it can be interpreted to stop free speech too, and could be a worry in the wrong hands.

    1. Yeah, also look at Germany, Poland (Hili, nooooo!) and Iceland.

      No need to point fingers at the yellow first world countries; there are sadly a bunch of orange ones that deserve more attention.

      1. Er…I meant there are sadly a bunch of *red* countries… But some orange ones too. I’m looking at you, Italy and Finland.

    2. In fairness to NZ we have lots of similar laws on the books that are outdated. Due to legal precedent or newer bills they are, in effect, meaningless.

      The blasphemy law is one such law. Yes it is on the books but might as well not be since courts have long decided that the free-speech rights granted in the Bill of Rights act of 1990 over-rides that law.

      1. Yeah, but I think it’s problematic, because when something happens, like the imprisonment of a NZer Philip Blackwood in Burma for blasphemy, it’s hard for us to complain when we have blasphemy laws ourselves.

        And the law not being used relies on our Human Rights legislation, which is only law, and could therefore be overturned by a future government. That’s obviously extremely unlikely in NZ, but it’d still be better gone imo.

        1. Exactly so. And it would be a really great reaffirmation of secular, free speech, principles to go through the process of repealing those old laws. Just imagine how great it would be to see a clip on the evening news or over your favorite medium of the legislature voting to repeal.

        2. My point is that the chart is misleading because it only looks at a legislative act in isolation of the actual law (which is built on judicial precedence). While I would be happy with a repeal of the Blasphemy law it would be purely symbolic and have no practical impact.

          I had to look some of this up because its been a while since I was in university. My understanding is that the blasphemy law has already been tested against the bill of Rights act section 14. Which states:

          “14 Freedom of expression

          Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

          And, in this case, the Bill of Rights Act* was considered more relevant. That means, officially, the law is decided and its in favour of the “Freedom of Expression”. As far as the Judiciary and, therefore, the law is concerned section 14 over-rides the Blasphemy libel law.

          The only practical way to prosecute blasphemy law now would be if Parliament enacted a new piece of legislation that over-rode previous court precedent and specifically mention that section 14 was exempt from consideration in future decisions (because the odds would be high that the very first attempt to prosecute under such a law would find section 14 invoked as superior and everything would be back to how it was).

          *The Bill of Rights Act is not a “supreme document” like the US Bill of Rights. The Courts can’t invalidate past or future legislation based on it by default.

          1. I’m not disagreeing with you – legally your analysis is completely correct imo. And I think that map is unfair and I do when it comes out every year on December 10th and NZ is still that colour, because there’s no doubt that practically NZ has greater freedom of expression than just about every other country. But I would still like our laws to reflect that, and I think it would be a good symbolic move.

            We’ve got a bit of a thing of ignoring sleeping dogs in NZ. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable.

            1. More seriously, while I agree in principle, it would be more realistic to have the map that indicated when blasphemy law was last used and/or if it has effectively been superseded (neutralised) by other legislation (which seems to be the case in NZ).

              A harder analysis, but more equitable.


              1. I agree with Ant.

                For example, UK (which is white) had a variety of variously obsolescent blasphemy laws, last successful prosecution in 1921 until the subject revived in more recent years – it’s complicated but for the full story see Wikipedia – which led to the laws being repealed in 2008.

                In NZ, there was one unsuccessful prosecution in 1922, and nothing since. It’s pretty much a non-issue. ‘Cultural’ issues (which include e.g. Maori traditions) are much more of a live issue here.


          1. I remember the foreign minister of (I think) Sweden spoke out against the Saudis on that issue a while back. The Saudis said she’d better stay out of Arabia’s business unless they want a trade war against Swedish exporters. Not sure if they tried to invoke Swedish anti-blasphemy law.

      2. So parliament simply can’t be arsed to repeal that law? Members of parliament are the same everywhere… 😛

        1. That is correct, besides which there are far more important battles to fight in the way of personal freedom (like e.g. putting the brakes on our spy-on-everybody government spooks) to waste time and effort on repealing ancient stupid laws that have been forgotten for decades.

          If NZ did somehow go theocratic, it wouldn’t matter in thew slightest if that law was still on the books – they’d just pass a new one.


    1. I haven’t seen this particular talk, but I completely agree with him. Most people don’t know the difference between most Muslims and Islamists – it’s one of those, “they all look like same” problems that stem from ignorance.

      There isn’t much understanding of Islam in the West, and for many the only Muslims they come across are the ones on the news murdering people.

  6. Reblogged this on Nina's Soap Bubble Box and commented:
    The Supreme Court ruled against municipalities opening meetings with prayers so that is one layer – but Quebec provinceial law is based in the napoleonic code and not english common law like the RoC (Rest of Canada) Federally our PM Harper passed laws that appear to make it not premissible under the law to say less than flatttering things about Isreal – and QUebec has it’s own charter of rights provincically that is following the France bans on overt religiousness… Quebec is the most catholic of all the provinces and the one with the least restrictivve pornography laws and the lowest marriage rates…..

    we’re quirky that way, eh?

  7. According to Wikipedia, France simply bans slander against religion, but what does that entail and who decides?

    In Victoria AU, someone can seek redress for conduct that involves serious contempt or severe ridicule under the “Racial and Religious Tolerance Act”. Again, how is this adjudicated?

  8. Cowardly governments.
    Atheists don’t squawk so no grease. Muslims read and memorize the Canadian Bill of Rights testing it and using it to their advantage. I’m just being honest. No need to call me names.

  9. I was surprised to see no color in China, good on them.

    Then there are the black colored countries. Seriously, do these governments even understand what civilized means? Well obviously not, or else they don’t care. What a human travesty.
    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can really kill me.”

    1. Since China has a communist government (if not a communist economy), it shouldn’t be surprising that it has no laws against religious blasphemy.

      That hardly makes it a bastion of free expression. China severely restricts speech criticizing the government (the communist analogue to blasphemy laws) and severely limits internet access within its borders. We are, after all, talking about the nation of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square.

  10. … I don’t believe any of it should be banned unless it calls for imminent violence.

    It would be more accurate to say (at least for purposes of comporting with the First Amendment) speech that is “likely to lead to imminent violence.”

    The First Amendment wouldn’t allow sanctions or penalties against, say, a group of Pakistani picketers outside the UN carry placards that said “Nuke India now.” On the other hand, it would allow such sanctions against, say, a group of people shouting racial epithets while Klansmen are marching with torches and gasoline toward a black family’s home (even if the epithets did not include express exhortations to commit arson).

    The legal test is whether the speech creates a “clear and present danger” of imminent violence.

  11. I’m glad Muslims are opposing this law. That is good news because it means liberal Muslims feel comfortable enough to do so!

  12. According to Wikipedia the blasphemy laws in Australia are vague in the extreme. There are no federal laws but in some states it may be a crime under common law, whilst other states have formally abolished blasphemy as a crime. No one has been prosecuted for blasphemy since 1919, so I think you’re pretty safe, but you could get into trouble for “hate speech” in some states, this is true.

  13. Quebec has turned into a complete basket case in the last couple decades. There is no end of lunacy from the government, their “protection” of the language in particular. Of course that’s a feature of the French where ever they may be.

    1. Bill 101 was stupid but I don’t think that means the whole province is going to hell. Quebec is very secular and Canadians should applaud that.

  14. I’m afraid that map is highly misleading, since it takes no notice of the social atmosphere.

    France and Australia – ‘local restrictions’ – what does that mean? Without more detail it’s meaningless. Maybe it just means you can’t paint ‘god is dead’ on a church, I don’t know.

    New Zealand is red, so is Denmark, but can you imagine anybody ever being prosecuted for blasphemy there? OTOH some of those red areas really mean it.

    And all those reassuringly white areas in Africa and South America – are I suspect deceptive. I doubt it reflects a commitment to free speech, more likely they just never got around to passing the respective laws.

    Where would I feel safer as an atheist – New Zealand or Denmark, or Ivory Coast or Coolidge, Arizona?


    1. “Social atmosphere” is subjective; if we’re going to create maps like this, we shouldn’t use that, we should use actual concrete data. Like the existence of blasphemy laws.

      Having said that, as Heather and others point out it looks like the mapmakers haven’t done their homework as well as they should. AIUI many US states have laws on the books that would punish some types of blasphemy, but these have since been ruled unconstitutional and thus “don’t count,” so we get no color on the map. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to make the map. However, New Zealand and probably some other countries are in the same situation – yet they got a yellow or an orange! Either because the mapmakers were unfamiliar with the overriding legislation, or because they simply treated the situation differently. That’s no good. They need to treat ‘obsolete’ legislation the same in every country; either count it or don’t, but don’t ignore obsolete laws in the case of the US and count them in the case of other countries.

      1. Eric, I do agree ‘social atmosphere’ is subjective, there may be a better term for it. The existence of ‘blasphemy’ laws is ostensibly more objective, but even so what counts as a ‘blasphemy’ or what counts as e.g. a ‘sedition’ law may be debatable.

        In many others of those ‘white’ countries I suspect if you tried publicly attacking the dominant religion you’d end up in the slammer for ‘disturbing the peace’ or ‘conduct prejudicial to public order’ or one of those ‘authorities don’t like you’ charges.

        But I think we generally agree the map is (as currently drawn) rather misleading?

        I’ve just noticed North Korea (described by Hitchens as a ‘necrocracy’) is – White! 🙁


    2. You’re right – Germany for instance doesn’t have a “blasphemy” law. It’s a law against the incitement of religious violence, so what’s protected is not religion, but the public peace.

      This said, every once in a while people try to use it like a blasphemy law, and sometimes succeed, though I know of no one being jailed under this law.

      1. Interestingly, the UK (white on the map) repealed its remaining blasphemy laws in 2008 as a consequence of passing the Incitement to Religious Hatred Act of 2006. (So says Wikipedia)


  15. The Outer Hebrides look awfully black on this map.
    I know that our own Tartan Taliban have a lot of clout there, but I hadn’t heard they had the right of capital punishment, although I’m sure they would enjoy a good stoning.

      1. Those pixies have a lot to answer for (and invoking them is possibly blasphemous)


        Prof Pedant

  16. I can never understand these laws in a society with more than one sect. Surely statements that say or at least imply that following another religion means eternal hellfire is equivalent to blasphemy against them. Right?

    1. It probably depends when the law in question was passed.

      In the ‘old days’ it probably just meant blasphemy against the dominant religion.

      In these politically correct days it means saying anything offensive to anyone’s religion.


      1. I hope that’s right because it would, if pursued to its logical conclusion, shut them all up. Plus, since they love to claim atheism is a religion, it would shut up complaints about atheists too.

        1. Yeah but I think we’ve generally agreed that giving the authorities powers to shut anyone up is usually a bad idea.


  17. I don’t know where this map come from, but there is no blasphemy law in France.
    There is a slight exception in the provinces of Alsace and in the department of Moselle (both of which we got back from Germany after the first world war). In these, the clergy is much stronger than in the rest of France, and for some obscure reason the penal code has chunks inherited from old german penal code. One of the inherited article concerns blasphemy, but never having been translated in french and officially published, it is inapplicable!

    Charlie Hebdo has been sued many times by religious organizations, but on charges of racism or racial discrimination. But it’s reassuring and sobering to consider that they never lost one of these trials (so much for the “Charlie Hebdo is racist canard).

    1. I agree. Without some clarification, the description ‘local restrictions’ on the map is meaningless.


  18. It would be terrible for any more countries to traipse down the blasmphemy enforcement road, as 2/3 of the world’s population already live under such threats (I coupled the International Humanist analysis with the Pew Research global survey of religion to get that sobering number, one of the postings in #TIP project at

Leave a Reply