B.C. says Bountiful shows need to ban multiple wives
James Keller, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, November 22, 2010 6:15PM PST
The child brides, trafficked girls, teenage pregnancies and oppressed women in a breakaway fundamentalist Mormon sect in southeastern British Columbia are all the result of polygamy, a B.C. government lawyer said Monday as he urged a judge to uphold Canada's ban on multiple marriages.
The B.C. Supreme Court is hearing a landmark case that will determine whether the laws against polygamy violate the religious guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the hearings are expected to focus heavily on life in the polygamous community of Bountiful.
Government lawyer Craig Jones said the court will hear evidence that girls in Bountiful and its sister communities in the U.S. are married off when they are teenagers, and even trafficked between communities to meet the demand for more wives.
Children become sexualized at a younger age, coupled with much older men than in broader society, he suggested.
Boys and men are driven out of the community to reduce the number of men competing for a limited number of women, and women are forced to live in an unequal society, he said.
And the common thread between all of those problems, said Jones, is polygamy.
"The harms documented at Bountiful are the perfectly predictable -- indeed the inevitable --consequences of a polygamous society," he told a courtroom packed with dozens of lawyers, reporters and curious members of the public.
"Bountiful did not create polygamy. Polygamy created Bountiful."
Police and prosecutors in B.C. investigated Bountiful for two decades, but consistently shied away from laying charges because of fears the laws against polygamy wouldn't survive a charter challenge.
Last year, the province went ahead anyway, charging Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler with one count each of polygamy.
The charges were later thrown out on technical legal grounds, but the process prompted the government to ask the B.C. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the law violates the charter.
The constitutional reference case is scheduled to last until the end of January but some legal experts predict the case will ultimately end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Jones said he'll present expert evidence suggesting the decline of polygamy has been "inextricably entwined" with the growth of Western democracy and equal rights, and he warned striking down the law would move the country backwards.
"The challengers urge the court to make Canada the only Western nation to legalize polygamy," he said. "The international consensus is away from polygamous practices, it's turning its back on polygamy."
The case will also hear from a lawyer known as an amicus, who was appointed by the government to take the opposing view.
George Macintosh is expected to argue that the laws against polygamy violate the principles of religious freedom and were originally enacted to attack Mormons and impose Christian values onto other cultures. The mainstream Mormon church abandoned polygamy more than 100 years ago.
There are also about a dozen interveners, including religious groups, women's rights organizations and civil liberties advocates.
More than 30 witnesses are expected to give evidence either through affidavits or in-person testimony. They include academic experts, current and former residents of Bountiful, and people who live in so-called polyamorous relationships outside of a specific religion.
Oler, who leads a faction within Bountiful connected to the U.S.-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, is also an intervener.
Blackmore, whose followers split from the FLDS, is boycotting the hearings because he was denied government funding and special legal status.
Police have alleged Blackmore has at least 19 wives and more than 100 children. Oler was accused of having three wives.
Blackmore has admitted practising polygamy, and the FLDS acknowledges in its court submissions that more than 50 of Oler's followers live in polygamous relationships.
Earlier in the day, Chief Justice Robert Bauman rejected a request by the CBC to broadcast the proceedings on television and over the Internet.
A lawyer for the public broadcaster argued the case is a matter of immense national importance and televising it would allow the public to better participate in that process.
But Bauman said the issue of allowing TV cameras into the courtroom was too complicated an issue to settle in a short hearing at the start of a lengthy case.
"This application raises the fundamental issues touching on the extent of the public's right to a truly open court. That is, the public's ability to access without attending," Bauman said.
"They should be debated in a calm and orderly fashion. ... This application does not permit a calm and deliberate review of these issues. It is brought on the eve of this proceeding."