Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I'm come across some interesting materials while researching Canada's blasphemy law for my dissertation. The Ontario Archives have proven fruitful in looking at old common-law prosecutions for blasphemy as early as 1805, while also providing 1920s Attorney General files that contain memos showing an internal dispute as to whether the prosecution of Ernest Sterry should go forward (the decision was that since religious groups were backing the prosecution, it was too late to stop). The National Library has also had some good material. Debates over J.S. Woodsworth's bill to repeal blasphemous libel show that he didn't understand that if the statute were repealed, the harsher common law prohibition would remain. Perhaps my most interesting find so far is that in the 1950s the federal Cabinet debated sending the blasphemous libel statute to the Supreme Court of Canada as a reference in tandem with a Quebec provincial law that had been used to suppress religious freedom. However, concerns over angering the province led to the idea being shelved. The archival work is time-consuming, but then, I've got 2 1/2 years left to finish the project.