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Witchcraft's Not a Real Religion, so the Police Won't Protect You

Dominique SmithNo, this is not the United States.

This is Canada.

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, which has a reputation for being one of the most progressive places in a progressive country, a place where the Labour Movement has always been strong and where the left has made a real mark, Dominique Smith can't get equal protection under the law because she is a witch.

Dominique's shop has been the target of systematic attacks since she opened it. She has found pamphlets from certain Christian groups on her doorstep after the incidences, telling her to "repent of her sins" because she chooses a Pagan religion.  None of her neighbours in the area have suffered such attacks.  Clearly she is being targeted specifically, and the perpetrators have even announced the reasons why.

I have had the good fortune to meet Dominique.  She's a pillar of the Winnipeg Pagan community, and the greater Pagan community in Canada.  For many years she has been an active member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian National Pagan Conference, all the while struggling to maintain her business.  I first met her in 2010 at the Conference in Montreal.  When I did my book tour in 2014, it was only natural for me to make her store the last stop before I headed back West.

broken-windowEven then, the window was broken.

Dominique's window has been broken three times since she opened her shop six years ago.  She is just a small store owner, trying to serve a small but visible community in Manitoba.  She can't afford to replace her windows, which cost thousands of dollars, every year.  If the bullies who are attacking her store are trying to drive her out of business because they don't like what she's selling, they're succeeding.

The Winnipeg Police Department told CBC that to them, a hate crime involving property would require the commission of the mischief to be based on bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin.  But Dominique can't get equal protection under the law because, apparently, witchcraft is not a real religion.  Canada still has laws on the books about "defrauding people with witchcraft."

In many ways, Canada is a very progressive country.  But in some ways it's deploringly backward.  For instance, did you know that there is no Pagan faith organization that is officially recognized as a Religious Charity by the Canadian federal government?  Religious Charities get a variety of tax breaks under the law; but more importantly, they cannot be denied access on the basis of religion.  And there are other benefits that are subtle and not well-known.  For instance, the clergy of any recognized Religious Charity are welcomed as Chaplains in the Canadian Armed Forces.  This was a career path I seriously considered, but that's when I found out that you had to be part of a recognized Religious Charity to do it.  The Wiccan Church of Canada has been trying for this recognition for more than thirty years.  Incidentally, the Hindu Cultural Society in Vancouver doesn't have this status either.  No polytheistic religion, to my knowledge, does.


In the meantime, the perpetrators of the vandalism and harassment at Dominique's store are becoming increasingly emboldened by the apparent indifference of the police.  They're spitting and urinating on her doorstep now.  How long before they start spitting and urinating on her?

Hate crime legislation is harsh in Canada, which is likely why the police are so reluctant to invoke the legislation.  But it exists for a reason.  If these laws were not created to protect people like the Pagans of Winnipeg, then who were they created to protect?

I've created a petition to demand that the Winnipeg Police Department investigate this systematic pattern of attacks as a hate crime, and give equal protection to everyone under the law.  I would welcome your support!  And if you want to contribute to a GoFundMe campaign to help Dominique replace her windows, you can do so here.


What the store looks like when the window isn't broken.
What the store looks like when the window isn't broken.

Crossposted to Patheos.com

Last modified on
Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser 2014) and contributor to "Pagan Consent Culture" and "The Pagan Leadership Anthology," she also writes "Between the Shadows" at Patheos' Pagan channel and contributes to Gods & Radicals. Sable is just breaking out as a speculative fiction writer under her legal name, and a new serial, the Wyrd West Chronicles, will be released on the Spring Equinox this year. Like most writers, she does a lot of other things to help pay the bills, including music, Etsy crafts, and working part time at a bookstore. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada with her two life partners and her furbabies in a cabin on the edge of the woods.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Saturday, 04 March 2017

    Doesn't Canada have laws against vandalism? Why waste time with hate crime stuff when there is obvious and repeated vandalism going on? Is urinating on the doorstep of a business really okay in Winnipeg, doesn't that violate health and safety standards?

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Saturday, 04 March 2017

    Oh yes, there are laws against all of that. But the police don't spend a great deal of effort investigating and prosecuting random incidences of mischief. They've got better things to do, apparently. But hate crimes are regarded as much more serious. A systemic pattern is not random mischief, and therefore should be taken more seriously.

  • Kenq
    Kenq Saturday, 04 March 2017

    I was stunned to learn that there is no legal recognition for Pagans in Canada. We've had it here in the states since I think the early 1970s, and we're the most regressive, religiously bigoted nations outside of the Middle East. I would suggest that securing these basic forms of recognition in law ought to become priority one for all Canadian Pagans. Time, money and effort spent on festivals, cons, artistic enterprises and mass workings for world peace etc. are worthless endeavors so long as your basic rights are unrecognized. If your fundamental religious and spiritual beliefs do not legally exist, you are effectively non-citizens in your own country. The little I've read so far about Canadian law and Pagan religion is alarming. Scientologists seem to have a slightly higher status in law. Beliefs and practices of Pagans might as well be a LARPing session at the local ren faire as far as the law seems concerned.

    Even to the extent that is true, the police seem to be using a bizarre interpretation of hate crime law. The intent of these laws seems to be concerned primarily with the motivations of the attackers, not the fine points of the victims status. Smiths attackers are targeting her for no other reason than their perception that she has the "wrong" religious beliefs. Whether that is because of her Pagan beliefs, or the perception that she is a Christian apostate or heretic or atheist should not, it seems to me, factor heavily in the investigation.

    The petition is a good place to start. I'd also suggest shopping the cause around to provincial or national law enforcement agencies and to any human rights type commissions that may exist. In the case of commissions, they might only open a civil type investigation or do some little hearings or reports, but any bit of momentum and public pressure can help. Remember that the Winnipeg PD is the same as any other bureaucracy. Their actions always follow the path of least resistance. Right now, fobbing off the investigation is the easiest path. The goal of any sort of activism is simple:make justice the path of least resistance and the only viable path. Get the local merchants association/chamber of commerce involved. This is not one shop owner's problem. It's a threat to the business climate. What if every business on the block could be persuaded to put up $500 for reward money for crimes against any of them?

    When they speak in unison, business groups get heard at city hall. Very often, they have people on the city council and mayor's office. Smith would also do well to turn up at council meetings and make her case in whatever public comment time they offer. Keep going and writing. Become the headache they want to cure with action. I was in journalism a long time and I can tell you these things work.

    Go after the bastards harassing you. The idiots left their calling cards in the form of pamplets. You may not know who's breaking the glass, but you know what circles and organizations they belong to, or orbit. With social media, it's pretty easy to figure out these affiliations, and it's no rare thing that vandals are morons and will actually post footage of their crimes or otherwise brag about them.

    Personally I'd also game the system for all it's worth. If my Pagan identity wasn't enough to motivate a hate crime investigation, guess what? Come Monday, I'd be an out and proud bisexual business owner with rainbow flags, special LGBT promotions and free program space for a local LGBT org. You can bet the bigot vandals would take that bait. It's also a very safe bet that police would find a whole new work ethic the minute the media asked them why they're doing nothing about homophobic attacks in the city.

    As to the window fund, I can't see donating a dime to that because it's throwing good money after bad. It's basically a vandal entertainment fund as things stand. Now, if on the other hand we were to raise funds for a high quality security camera system or rollup steel security shutters, that would be an entirely different matter.

  • Durantia None
    Durantia None Saturday, 04 March 2017

    This is definitely a hate crime. The failure of the Winnipeg Police Service to address this issue violates her constitutional rights, which clearly state:

    "15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”


    "24. (1) Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”

    What religion is not specified, so all religions must be included under this legislation. She needs a lawyer.

  • Shawn Sanford Beck
    Shawn Sanford Beck Tuesday, 07 March 2017

    Greeting friend, I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to help with this campaign. I'm a ChristoPagan, and a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. Winnipeg is out of my ecclesiastical jurisdiction (I'm in the Battlefords region of Saskatchewan), but in terms of a wider struggle for legal recognition of Paganism as a recognized and protected religion, I'd be happy to work with others on that. Feel free to contact me at greenpriest@hotmail.ca if you think I could be of service.

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