In a move that was many years in the making, the Liberal government has finally taken steps to remove a number of outdated laws from the Criminal Code, also known as zombie laws. Of course, the term has nothing to do with The Walking Dead. Rather, it refers to laws that have been struck down as unconstitutional by the courts and yet never scrubbed from the Criminal Code. They’re technically dead, but just like zombies, they still roam the land.
The truth is that our criminal code is a 125 year-old document which has been overhauled only once, and that was back in 1950! This means that many of the laws within this code simply don’t match with the reality of modern Canadian life.
The problem with these zombie laws is that as long as they’re still contained within the criminal code, people can be accused of breaking them. Case in point: Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently revealed that, between 2014 and 2015, 69 Canadians had been charged with section 159, which prohibits people under 18 years of age from having anal sex. Thus, archaic and unconstitutional laws are permitted to live on.
The recent and horribly botched murder verdict of a man named Travis Vader offers another very clear illustration of what’s wrong with outdated laws. In a publicly televised ruling, a judge declared Vader guilty of second-degree murder. Unfortunately for the judge, he used section 230 to do it. But here’s the kicker: this article, which pertains to committing a murder during the course of another crime, has been unconstitutional and of no force or effect since 1990! Apparently no one in government, for nearly 30 years, had thought to take action and actually remove it from the criminal code. In the end, Vader’s original conviction had to be reversed and he was convicted of manslaughter, a lesser charge.
Zombie laws can also refer to outdated and completely irrelevant practices, all of which are still found in the Criminal Code today. Some of these are actually quite amusing:
- Duelling – section 71
- Spreading false news – section 181
- Making crime comics – section 163 (1) b)
- Advertising Viagra – section 163 (2) d)
- Water-skiing at night – section 250 (2)
- Pretending to practice witchcraft – section 365
- Issuing trading stamps – section 427
- Clipping coins – section 451
Shoutout to Toronto-based designer Micheal Fazal for the awesome illustrations. Make sure to check out his work.