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En Garde! (Nonviolent) Dueling Will Soon Be Legal in Canada

The government is ridding the Criminal Code of obsolete laws—like ones that prohibit dueling and witchcraft

(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I/Fair use)
smithsonian.com

It has been many years since disgruntled Canadians used duels as a means of settling disputes (with the notable exception of two grandmothers who recently clashed with canes outside a Toronto grocery store). But as Brian Platt reports for the National Post, a move to clean up the Canadian Criminal Code will scrap the law that banned the violent practice, thereby making duels legal once again.

The country’s Liberal government has formally presented a comprehensive justice bill that, in part, seeks to rid the Criminal Code of laws that are “obsolete, redundant, or already ruled as unconstitutional,” Platt writes. Among the laws getting the boot is section 71, which imposes a prison sentence of up to two years on anyone who challenges or provokes a person to fight a duel, or accepts a challenge to fight a duel. (It should be noted that using a weapon to cause bodily harm remains, without doubt, a prosecutable offense.)

It has been nearly two centuries since the last duel-related death occurred in Canada. On June 13, 1833, a young man named Robert Lyon was shot in the lungs by one John Wilson in the town of Perth, Ontario. The source of their dispute, according to Andrew King of the Ottawa Citizen, was a school teacher named Elizabeth Hughes. Wilson was in love with her, but she did not return his affections, and later went out with Lyon and a friend of his. When Wilson found out that Lyon had not only taken Hughes on a date, but also put his arm around her in a manner Wilson felt inappropriate, he challenged Lyon to a pistol duel.

The encounter did not end well for Lyon, but Wilson was acquitted of any crime and was eventually elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. He also married Elizabeth Hughes. “It seems the school teacher’s feelings for Wilson miraculously altered after the duel,” King writes.

As Justin Ling points out in Vice, the new bill will do away with a number of other curious lawslike ones that prohibit mocking religion, or offering a reward for stolen property with “no questions asked.” Another soon-to-be-defunct law made it illegal to “pretend to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,” or to use “occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found,” Platt reports in the National Post.

These prohibitions have been kicked to the curb because they are irrelevant to modern times—unless, of course, Harry Potter and Co. should ever need to duel against a Canadian dark lord.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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