Studying the British North America Act involves research into history: the foundations of the Dominion of Canada, the social and political factors that drove or opposed Confederation, and the laws that shaped our current jurisprudence and legislation. For this final week blogging as the Dominion 2017, each writer takes a turn looking to the future.
Pop culture has a mild obsession with fantastical zombie apocalypse theories like in the film World War Z and the television series The Walking Dead. Today we exploit this wordplay to write about Canada’s zombie laws.
Today’s post doesn’t predict a zombie apocalypse. Instead, it celebrates the impending doom of so-called zombie laws in the Criminal Code.
Several “undead” laws remain “on the books”—in the Criminal Code—until Parliament amends or repeals them. Zombie laws are effectively null. If a court imposes a conviction under such laws, the defendant will likely succeed on appealing that conviction. Most zombie laws have been struck down by the courts for failing to comply with the Constitution. Others are simply out of date with contemporary customs.
Zombie laws usually don't do anything but sit on the books and make law students chuckle. So, what’s the harm of leaving them written in the code? It’s simply misleading; it can confuse the justice process. The government should clearly express what is an is not a law so that individuals are aware. Without the benefit of a legal education to sort through case law, many people may be unaware of laws that have been struck down.
Legal scholars across Canada renewed their demands on parliament to repeal zombie laws after the apocalyptic fallout when a judge used such a law. As we wrote in September, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Denny Thomas convicted Travis Vader using a charge that has been struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). Justice Thomas subsequently corrected that error and convicted Vader with manslaughter. This correction precluded Vader’s lawyers from appealing the conviction on the grounds that it fell under an unconstitutional provision.
A parliamentary democracy gives lawmakers parliamentary supremacy. Parliament can enact or repeal any law it wishes by passing a bill through the House of Commons. However, the Constitution supersedes all other legislation. In 1982 the constitutional supremacy clause was introduced. It assures that all Canadian legislation is consistent with the constitutional provisions. When courts interpret legislation, they have the power to strike down a law and render it “of no force or effect” to the extent that it is inconsistent with the Constitution; including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Charter also took effect in 1982 and, being part of the Constitution, holds the same status as supreme law. Several laws—among those listed below—that were enacted before 1982 have subsequently been rendered unconstitutional.
To bring the Criminal Code text in line with jurisprudence and contemporary social values, Parliament has announced that it will repeal (hopefully all) the zombie laws. Eliminating uncertainty and vagueness in the Criminal Code will prevent potential future apocalyptic zombie justice system.
List of Undead Offenders:
- s. 71: Challenging someone or accepting a challenge to fight in a duel.
- s. 159: Anal intercourse for people under 18 years; anal intercourse in groups.
- s. 163(1, 7): Publishing crime comics.
- s. 163(2)(d): Advertising drugs that “are a method for restoring sexual virility or curing venereal diseases.”
- s. 179: Vagrancy.
- s. 181: Spreading false news.
- s. 230: Murder in commission of offences.
- s. 250(1, 2): Water-skiing at night; water skiing without a spotter.
- s. 287: Abortion.
- s. 296: Publishing blasphemous libel.
- s. 365: Fraudulently pretending to practice witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration; or tell fortunes.
- s. 427(1): Issuing trading stamps.
 RSC 1985, c-46.
 Constitution Act, 1982, s 52, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Constitution].
 Tu Thanh Ha, “These Seven Archaic ‘Zombie Laws’ still Exist in the Criminal Code,” The Globe and Mail (8 March 2017), online: <www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/these-zombie-laws-in-the-criminal-code-could-still-have-you-arrested/article34246168/>.
 Constitution, supra note 2, s 52.
 Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter].
 Kathleen Harris, “Federal Government to Axe 'Zombie Laws' from Canada's Criminal Code,” CBC News (7 March 2017), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/politics/criminal-code-reform-zombie-laws-1.4013869>; Brent Rathgeber, “The Criminal Code is in Dire Need of Housecleaning: Trudeau Needs to Pick Up where Harper Failed to Act,” iPolitics (22 September 2016), online: iPolitics.com <www.ipolitics.ca/2016/09/22/the-criminal-code-is-in-dire-need-of-housecleaning/>.
 Harris, ibid.
 Ha, supra note 2.
 R v M(C), 23 OR (3d) 629, 82 OAC 68; R v Roth, 2002 ABQB 145, 306 AR 387.
 R v Butler,  1 SCR 452, 89 DLR (4th) 449.
 Ha, supra note 3.
 R v Heywood,  3 SCR 761, 120 DLR (4th) 348.
 R v Zundel,  2 SCR 731, 56 OAC 161.
 R v Vaillancourt,  2 SCR 636, 68 Nfld & PEIR 281; R v Martineau,  2 S.C.R. 633, 76 Alta LR (2d) 1.
 R v Gatt, 1992 CanLII 1105 (BC SC).
 R v Morgentaler,  1 SCR 30, 44 DLR (4th) 385.
 Ha, supra note 3.