According to Toronto police, a citizen of India visiting Toronto, who described himself as an astrologer and a psychic, advertised his services in the city during February and March 2017. The ads were under the name of “Master Raghav.”
It is alleged a 44-year-old man brought his mentally ill daughter to see the psychic whose real name is Murali Muthyalu. Muthyalu allegedly told the man his daughter was possessed by evil spirits and conducted several healing sessions to drive out the spirits. For these sessions, Muthyalu received payments totalling $101,000.
On Wednesday, Muthyalu was charged with one count each of extortion, fraud over $5,000 and pretending to practise witchcraft. He made his first court appearance yesterday.
The offence of Pretending to Practise Witchcraft
Section 365 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it an offence to pretend to exercise any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, undertake to tell fortunes for consideration or to claim a lost or stolen item can be found through the use of crafty science or the occult. It is a summary conviction offence, the equivalent of a misdemeanor offence in the United States.
The law was first enacted in Canada in 1892. Witchcraft laws have their origins with English laws that were enacted to find and burn witches. In a 1999 thesis, criminologist Tracesandra McDonald wrote the Canadian version was probably enacted “to control Gypsies.”
Why does Section 365 still exist?
Pretending to practise witchcraft, like the offence of duelling, is rarely used. And it is a difficult crime to prove. Since the offence involves “pretending” to practise witchcraft, being able to practise it is a defence. In order to obtain a conviction the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the accused does not have the powers he or she claims to have. It is much easier to prove offences such as extortion and fraud than it is to prove witchcraft.
Unlike this section, fraud over and extortion are classified as more serious indictable offences. Once the payment is proved, all the prosecution has left to prove is the daughter’s mental health problems were not cured by the psychic.
Wicca and Paganism are recognized by the federal government in Canada as legitimate religions, at least for some purposes. Many Wiccans and Pagans are upset their religion is singled out in fraud cases of this nature while other religions are not. Use of this section could give rise to an argument a person’s right to freedom of religion is being infringed.
Police claim they use this section on occasion because some victims will not accept the fact the power the accused said he or she has is not real. By using Section 365, prosecutors can take the position the person was only “pretending” to practise witchcraft without having to convince victims this power does not exist.
Toronto police are asking anyone who had contact with “Master Raghav” to contact them.