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5 Once-Banned Things That Could Soon Be Legal in Canada

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In late 2015, Britain’s lawmakers planned to repeal more than 200 outdated laws, including bans on wood-hauling and “handling salmon under suspicious circumstances.” Now, Canada is following suit: As the National Post reports, our neighbors to the North are finally giving their antiquated Criminal Code, which was introduced in 1892, a much-needed overhaul, tabling legislation that will remove laws deemed "obsolete, redundant, or already ruled as unconstitutional.” Here are five of the strangest, silliest, and out-of-left-field laws that will soon be scrubbed from the books.

1. CHALLENGING SOMEONE TO A DUEL.

According to Smithsonian, the last duel-related death in Canada occurred on June 13, 1833, when a man named John Wilson shot a romantic rival who’d gotten a little too snuggly with his love interest. (The lady in question reportedly wasn't even interested in Wilson, but the two ended up getting married anyway.) Even though centuries have passed, dueling is illegal under Section 71 of Canada’s Criminal Code.

Currently, individuals who challenge or provoke someone to fight a duel, accept a dueling challenge, or try to persuade a person to duel someone else face a two-year prison sentence. But soon, Canadians will be able to engage in arranged combat without consequence—so long as the altercation in question doesn’t involve assault with a weapon, or cause bodily harm. (Nerf guns, foam swords, and wizard wands are probably OK.)

2. PRETENDING TO BE A WITCH.

According to Section 365 of Canada’s Criminal Code, it’s illegal to “pretend to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,” “tell fortunes,” or pretend to use magic to discover stolen or lost items."

According to the National Post, the law is descended from Medieval English laws that sentenced accused witches to burn at the stake—but, as Broadly points out, there are people in modern-day Canada who have been charged under Section 365. These cases were allegedly fraud-related, and involved swindlers who charged others money to lift “curses,” or pretended to embody the spirits of deceased family members for monetary gain. (Don’t worry—no one was sentenced to the stake.)

Technically, Section 365 only makes a very specific kind of fraud—pretending to use magic—illegal. However, some legal experts have said that the law is discriminatory toward those who actually do practice witchcraft, and that it’s redundant in light of other fraud laws.

"Few commentators would argue the law should not protect people from frauds perpetrated under threat of misfortune or promise of unattainable goals by a charlatan,” authors Natasha Bakht and Jordan Palmer wrote in the journal Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues. “However, the provision that differentiates this type of fraud from others is mired in historic oppression of women and religious minorities, and is not necessary to prosecute fraud.”

3. ADVERTISING AWARDS FOR MISSING ITEMS, NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

In America, individuals seeking a missing bike, pet, or backpack often hang signs promising a cash award for its safe return, “no questions asked.” But in Canada, under Section 143 of the Criminal Code, individuals can be punished under the law if they publicly advertise a reward for the return of lost or stolen items, and use “words to indicate that no questions will be asked if it is returned.”

Soon, this practice will likely be allowed—meaning people will be able to widen their search efforts after a beloved possession or pet goes missing.

4. POSSESSING, PRINTING, DISTRIBUTING, OR PUBLISHING CRIME COMICS.

Paragraph 163(1)(b) of Canada’s Criminal Code forbids possessing, printing, distributing, or publishing comics that depict the commission of a crime, or the events surrounding it. As Global News reports, this ban dates back to the 1940s, when comics mostly consisted of pulp crime, horror, and romance, and they were widely read by everyone—including children.

In 1948, two young comic fans in British Columbia were pretending to be highway bandits, and shot and killed a man. This led to a backlash against the comic book industry, and legislation was passed to ban their sale. That said, the last time an individual was charged under Paragraph 163(1)(b) of the Criminal Code was in 1987, and the charges were later changed to distribution of sexually explicit material.

5. COMMITTING BLASPHEMOUS LIBEL.

Section 296 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits “blasphemous libel,” has been on the books since 1892, according to Global News Canada. Individuals who break this law face a two-year jail sentence—even though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the rule means, or whether it’s meant to punish blasphemy-tinged libel or libel with elements of blasphemy.

“I can’t tell you what it is,” Ottawa-based lawyer Michael Spratt recently told Global News. “No lawyer alive today has had to deal with it.” Now, none will have to.

The last time someone was convicted of blasphemous libel was in 1927, when a Toronto man named Ernest Victor Sterry—who was both an atheist and a member of the Rationalist Society—was given a 60-day jail sentence. Meanwhile, a movie theater in the Ontario city of Sault Ste. Marie was charged with blasphemous libel in 1980 for screening the 1979 British satire film Monty Python’s Life of Bryan, but charges were later dropped.

That said, “these obscure statutes can be abused," Toronto criminal lawyer Sean Robichaud warned Global News. “We look at these and laugh, and say ‘What is blasphemous libel?’ and say that nobody has been prosecuted for the last 100 years on it, and sort of chuckle at it. But with something like that you may have a particular political movement get into power, and then they start prosecuting on these sorts of things. Then it’s no longer a joke, because that otherwise unused law can be used.”

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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