10 Apr 2008


National Post - Canada
April 10, 2008

Canadians abhor' behaviour in Bountiful

by Charles Lewis

The Attorney-General of British Columbia is leaning toward bringing in a special prosecutor to lay a charge under the anti-polygamy law in the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful.

Wally Oppal said that he favours the laying of a charge but prosecutors in the province's criminal justice branch believe any case would fail because of a possible violation of the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

"This matter has to come to fruition," Mr. Oppal said. "I think all right-thinking Canadians abhor what is said to be going on there -- 50-yearold men married to 15-yearold girls and all the exploitation. Every Canadian should be concerned about this."

Mr. Oppal said he could order prosecutors to take on the case, but he would rather work with someone who does not believe it is doomed to failure.

"I would like a more aggressive approach, which means you lay the charge and let the defence worry about the constitutionality issue. That's normally the way things are done," Mr. Oppal said.

"This case has been with us for more than 20 years and over time, because of changing mores, [some believe] that the offence of polygamy may be outdated." Mr. Oppal said he does not agree with that.

However, Mr. Oppal said he has not yet made up his mind because he has to consider two reports he commissioned to give him guidance as to how he should proceed.

Last August, Vancouver lawyer Richard Peck issued a report that said that section 293 of the Criminal Code, the anti-polygamy law, should be sent to the courts for an opinion of its constitutionality rather than prosecuting individuals. Then this week, lawyer Leonard Doust came to the same conclusion.

Mr. Oppal said he had hoped that one of the reports would have recommended laying a charge, which may have helped overcome the doubts of his prosecutors.

But since both reports say the same thing he is now considering going with a special prosecutor.

He also said that even if they were to go the route of getting an opinion first, many courts are reluctant to offer an "opinion in a vacuum."

"It's not impossible but courts don't like to give academic opinions," Mr. Oppal said.

A few years ago the RCMP was looking at laying sexual assault charges, but members of the Bountiful community said that all sex was consensual so it was impossible to bring a case to court.

But with a polygamy charge, all there has to be is proof of multiple marriages. There is no defence that it is consensual, Mr. Oppal said.

There are about 1,500 residents of Bountiful living in polygamous relationships.

On Tuesday, a former member of the polygamous sect in Bountiful said Mr. Oppal needs to stop wasting time and should prosecute individuals in the fundamentalist Mormon community.

Debbie Palmer, who was "assigned" to three husbands while in the community, left Bountiful in 1988 with her eight children, saying she feared for their safety.

"Having been a child on the inside, I know the uncertainty has a really bad effect on everybody: on the people concerned about the issue and the women and children inside the community who don't know what's going to happen to them."

She said she had hoped Mr. Oppal would do more than his predecessors and she accused him of stalling on the file.

Mr. Oppal said that assessment is unfair.

"Debbie Palmer should know I've done more here in the last 2½ years than anyone has done in the past 25 years," Mr. Oppal said.

"I resurrected this issue in 2005. I'm committed to this. This is something I'm very concerned with."

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment