Canadian Psychic Charged with ‘Witchcraft,’ Media Get the Message Wrong

Benjamin Radford

In October 2018, Dorie Stevenson of Milton, Ontario, who goes by the name Madeena, was arrested by police and formally charged with witchcraft. Stevenson was not arrested for practicing magic per se; charges were laid under Section 365 of Canada’s Criminal Code, “Witchcraft—Fortune Telling,” as a form of fraud: “Every one who pretends to practise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration; undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes; or pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found.” Other charges included fraud and extortion.

The archaic nature of the phrasing of such statutes spurred spurious and ill-informed news headlines and articles, such as in The Washington Post (“In Canada, Pretending to Be a Witch Is a Punishable Offense”) and BBC News (“Canada’s Last Witch Trials: Women Accused of Fake Witchcraft”). The articles misleadingly framed the issue as about freedom of religious beliefs and persecution of pagan witches, not using psychic powers as a pretense for theft. The BBC piece, which reported that “The charges could lead to Canada’s last witch trials, as the section of the law banning pretending to practise witchcraft will soon be repealed,” is especially egregious and historically ignorant; in the real witch trials victims were accused of real—not fake—witchcraft. The phrasing also raised flags among some lawmakers in 2017 who referred to them as “obsolete,” though others noted that despite their dated terminology they do help protect Canadian citizens. The code was repealed by the Canadian Parliament on December 13, 2018 under Bill C-51.

The arrest was the culmination of a five-month investigation involving several victims, some of whom claimed they had been bilked out of tens of thousands of dollars. Stevenson’s website states without irony that “As an experienced and gifted Milton psychic reader I am aware that you could have had false hopes and promises made to you that has led you into a deeper path of confusion. … As a trusted psychic reader I provide guidance and suggest solutions in the following matters,” and one of her areas of expertise is “court cases.”

In related alleged psychic fraud news, a New York woman who claims to be psychic has filed a lawsuit against psychic-busting skeptic and private investigator Bob Nygaard. Janet Lee—who has a history of arrests for fraud—seeks millions in damages, saying that Nygaard has harassed her and cost her business by contacting her clients and telling them they’ve been scammed and encouraging them to contact police and seek refunds. Her lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Court of Westchester County, states:

Janet Lee is a practicing psychic, and for those individuals who believe in psychics and seek out their services, she renders the services that they expect of her. To label her a fraud and a “scammer” absent proof that she cannot render the services that she and her clients believe she has the ability to render, is slanderous and defamatory and has damaged her ability to practice her profession and make a living.

Benjamin Radford

Benjamin Radford, M.Ed., is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author, co-author, contributor, or editor of twenty books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits (2018).


In October 2018, Dorie Stevenson of Milton, Ontario, who goes by the name Madeena, was arrested by police and formally charged with witchcraft. Stevenson was not arrested for practicing magic per se; charges were laid under Section 365 of Canada’s Criminal Code, “Witchcraft—Fortune Telling,” as a form of fraud: “Every one who pretends to practise …

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