The case is attracting attention as a curiosity (grieving lawyer - and you thought they had cheque books rather than hearts - meets fake witch) and for use of a statute that non-specialist assume had vanished through desuetude. One contact responded "... ah, those crazy Canadians - it's a Canadian thing, like Mackenzie King channelling the spirit of his dead mum through his taxidermied dog".
Supposed faux witch Vishwantee Persaud -
was charged under a rarely used section of Canada's criminal code for allegedly pretending to practice witchcraft to convince a man that she was the embodied spirit of his deceased sister.
She did so, police say, in order to defraud him of tens of thousands of dollars.In Canada, as in Australia, it is not an offence to be a witch: providing you meet obligations under food safety, public health, cruelty to animals and other statutes you can cook as many newts and bats in your big black pot as you like and persuade yourself that kissing The Dark Master's hairy btm will confer sundry powers.
"Witchcraft is how she got her hooks into him to commit a larger series of frauds against him," said Detective Constable Corey Jones, who investigated the case. "She claimed to have come from a long line of witches and could read tarot cards, then told him his deceased sister's spirit had returned and inhabited a feminine form close to him - intimating it was her - and that she was going to guide him to financial prosperity and business success."
This allowed her to befriend the victim and become involved in his business dealings, setting the stage for the fraud that was to follow, including fictitious expenses for law school tuition and cancer treatments.
It is an offence to defraud people by fraudulently pretend to exercise sorcery, witchcraft or enchantment. The current Canadian 'bogus witching law' reportedly dates from 1892 and has been rarely used. It is presumably Section 365 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which provides that -
Everyone who fraudulently -A police representative commented that "the law is not directed at witches, but rather at using the pretence of witchcraft to separate someone from their money". Persaud faces up to six months in jail and a fine of C$2,000 for sham witchcraft, along with stiffer penalties under conventional fraud charges.
a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjurationis guilty of an offense punishable on summary conviction
b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
c) pretends from his skill in knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found
The shape of Australian 'bogus witch' law has changed in the past two decades. The Vagrants, Gaming and Other Offences Act 1931 (Qld), repealed by the Summary Offences Act 2005 (Qld) for example indicated that anyone "who pretends or professes to tell fortunes for gain or payment of any kind shall be deemed to be a vagrant and shall be liable to a penalty of $100 or to imprisonment for six months". The Justice and Other Legislation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2000 (Qld) removed the offence of "pretending to use witchcraft, sorcery, fortune-telling or other occult science" from the state's Criminal Code of 1899.
Section 432 of that Code was concerned with the offence of "Pretending to Exercise Witchcraft or Tell Fortunes". It provided that -
Any person who pretends to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration, or undertakes to tell fortunes, or pretends from his skill or knowledge in any occult science to discover where or in what manner anything supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for one year.Section 40 of the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) regarding 'Acting as a spiritualist, medium etc with intent to defraud' stated that -
A person who, with intent to defraud, purports to act as a spiritualist or medium, or to exercise powers of telepathy or clairvoyance or other similar powers, is guilty of an offence. Maximum penalty: $10 000 or imprisonment for 2 years.The Vagrancy Act 1966 (Vic) more colourfully provided that -
Any person who pretends or professes to tell fortunes or uses any subtle craft means or device by palmistry or otherwise to defraud or impose on any other person or pretends to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration or pretends from his skill or knowledge in any occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner any goods or chattels stolen or lost may be found shall be guilty of an offence.