Cassandra Mac-Leane is a psychic from Vancouver who teaches people how to spot a deceitful psychic from a mile away. She provides tips on her website dedicated to giving people the warning signs they need to know. She does this because she believes that the fake psychics give her honest psychics a bad name and cause them to be “tarred with the same brush”. She states that these fraudulent psychics use tricks that are “as old as written history”; for example, cracking open an egg to unearth a black omen. “One year I met two professors from UBC who fell victim. That just gives you a sense of how convincing they are,” she says.
In the past, authorities and police used to perform raids on fraudulent palm readers and psychics but recently, it has become the customers’ responsibility to do their homework and choose a psychic wisely on their own.
“It’s up to a person’s own beliefs whether they choose to believe in this stuff or not,” says Sergeant Randy Fincham, who is a spokesman for the Vancouver Police Department.
Even if the law did still wish to pursue fraudulent psychics, a lot of them have their operations overseas where the Canadian law cannot reach them.
“My spells are 100% real not fake, so if you need real spells that work then call me and I can help you,” says an ad posted on Kijiji.com.
Last August, Ebay made the decision to stop allowing customers to sell any services related to spells, curses, fortunetelling, hexing, magic, blessing services, magic potions, healing sessions, etc. for fear of condoning fraudulent activity.
“When you defraud people out of their savings or you risk their health, it doesn’t matter if it’s done by mainstream religious leaders or witch doctors” says the Section 365 law that was written into the inaugural 1892 draft of the Criminal Code. This is one of the anti-duelling measures the Canadian government has. Getting the Queen involved is another measure they have, but it is very rarely used.
This Canadian law actually stems from the medieval English laws that were made to detect and burn “witches” and “gypsy’s”, according to the 1999 criminology thesis by Tracesandra McDonald, a University of Ottawa student.
The Section 365 law is used every few months in the Toronto area alone. For example, in 2009, a 36-year-old named Vishwantee Persaud was charged under Section 365 for practicing fake supernatural powers in order to scam $100,000 from a lawyer who was a client of hers. However, the “witchcraft” charges were substituted with “fraud” charges in her case.
Chief spokesman for the Centre for Inquiry, Justin Trottier, believes that the Section 365 law should not only apply to “witches” but also to any con artist who use their religious beliefs to steal from people. He is unhappy that they currently are only charged with standard fraud charges.
“When you defraud people out of their savings or you risk their health, it doesn’t matter if it’s done by mainstream religious leaders or witch doctors or Tarot card readers, the law should be applied consistently,” he says.
Second-degree high priestess with the Wiccan Church of Canada Nicole Cooper agrees. “Personally, I am all for this law,” she says. “Many people every year that I personally hear about- and surely many more- are bilked out of thousands of dollars by unscrupulous charlatans offering ‘spiritual’ services in exchange for high fees.”
Even though the law is commonly used, getting a conviction to hold up on it is a whole other story. The reason for this is that charging someone for violating Section 365 opens the possibility to bump up against people’s “freedom of conscience and religion” rights, which are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Prosecutors would have to be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the ‘bad guy’ doesn’t actually have these powers and… I don’t even know how you’d go about proving that,” says Sergeant Fincham.
Although this law to protect people from fake “witchcraft” has been around for more than a century since it’s inception, Canadian cities are still full of fake sorcerers, swindling psychics, and sham conjurers.
“I think the rarity of the charge comes down to the rarity of people coming forward,” says Detective Constable James Turnbull of the Toronto Police Department. “You’re trying to explain to people that they’ve been victimized and they don’t believe you; they believe the guy’s power is real.”
Just last week, Turnbull’s division convicted Gustavo Gomez under Section 365 of the Criminal Code.
Gomez calls himself a “healer” and advertised himself in Ontario and Quebec on Spanish radio stations, as well as with print ads. He would convince people that they were under a curse, and that he could lift that curse off of them for the price of $10,000 to $15,000.
The Toronto Police Department is currently warning citizens of “curse-lifters” similar to Gomez who are targeting the Chinese community. Fraudsters are approaching Cantonese-speaking senior citizens, lie to them about a curse, have them put all of their money and valuable items into a bag, then take off with the bag.
These scammers will sometimes promise the people that they will be given “lucky jade bracelets” or bottles of “blessed mystical water” and they are widespread in the city of Vancouver.
“We’ve had about seven [incidents] reported to us,” says Detective Constable Jay Amundsen who works for the Vancouver Police Department. “We’re talking about $100,000,” he adds.
In the past, these kinds of paranormal scams were mostly performed by con artists pretending to be palm readers or psychics who attract customers, successfully lie to them about curses, and then charge them a large price to get rid of it, but approaching people on the streets to scam them like this is a relatively new crime.
Tara Greene is a psychic and astrologer in Toronto and in her email to the National Post she says that con artists posing as psychics usually “start off cheap or free, and then hook you and charge more and more money and promise things that are impossible for them to deliver”.
Even though Greene’s website states that she is a psychic and astrologer, she prefers to call herself an “intuitive counselor”. She still uses common psychic tools such as crystal balls, but she makes sure to always tell her clients that her services are “for entertainment purposes” for legal reasons.
“I use my intuition, I can see psychically [but] it is the client’s choice what to do with the information I give them and I am not responsible for that,” she says.