Canada votes to repeal its blasphemy law

13 December, 2018

Humanists UK has welcomed the passage of a new bill which is set to repeal Canada’s 19th century blasphemy laws.

The bill now awaits royal assent, the final (formal) legislative step. Humanists UK, which campaigns against blasphemy laws around the world as part of the End Blasphemy Laws coalition, has welcomed the news, and urged other countries who retain their blasphemy laws, such as Scotland and Northern Ireland, to do the same.

‘Blasphemous libel’ was outlawed in Section 296 of the Canadian Criminal Code and is punishable by a prison term of up to two years.

Although the last conviction for blasphemy in Canada was in 1927, the law has been used to bring many private prosecution cases which have sought to silence free expression, including in 1979 against Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Such laws are also frequently used by other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to justify the presence of their own actively used laws.

The repeal followed an e-petition by humanist groups across Canada which called for an end to Section 296. The petition gained 7,400 signatures.In response, the Canadian Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, confirmed that repeal of the blasphemy law was being considered as part of a wider package of justice reform, and in 2017 the Government introduced the Bill to repeal the law.

In other blasphemy-related news, in Spain the Supreme Court has upheld a six month prison sentence for blasphemy against an abortion rights activist who interrupted mass. While in New Zealand a bill to repeal its blasphemy law passed its Second Reading in the unicameral House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Humanists UK Director of Policy and Public Affairs Richy Thompson said:

‘The Canadian Parliament’s decision to repeal its blasphemy law signals a growing momentum for countries to rid themselves of their oppressive and archaic laws and uphold rights to freedom of expression.

‘The retention of blasphemy laws, no matter if they are obsolete as was the case in Canada, provides a justification for countries around the world to persecute religious minorities and the non-religious, and enforce extreme punishments for those accused of blasphemy.

‘This positive decision shines a spotlight on countries such as Scotland and Northern Ireland that choose to retain their blasphemy laws, and the pressing need for them to urgently follow in the footsteps of the international movement of countries moving towards a more free and secular future.’

Canada will be the latest country to repeal its blasphemy laws, following France, Malta, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark. Ireland is also set to repeal its law following a referendum on the matter in October. Legislation is also being advanced to repeal blasphemy laws in Spain and New Zealand.


For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at  or phone 020 7324 3078.

Humanists UK co-founded the End Blasphemy Laws campaign in 2015, coordinated by the International Humanist and Ethical Union and European Humanist Federation and previously led the campaign for the successful repeal of blasphemy laws in England and Wales in 2008.

Read more about our Irish blasphemy campaign here:

Read more about Humanists UK’s international campaign to end blasphemy laws:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.