No, 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.
Even 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.
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Crossposted to PaganSquare.