18 Apr 2008

B.C. kids at cult compound

The Vancouver Sun
April 18, 2008

by Kelly Sinoski|Vancouver Sun

Some B.C. children are believed to be among the 416 children seized from a polygamous cult in Texas last week, B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal said Friday.

Oppal said he was alerted by federal officials Friday morning because of a similar situation in Bountiful, B.C., although the province has no jurisdiction in the matter of the B.C. kids in Texas.

Canadian interests are being handled by the Foreign Affairs and Justice departments and Canada Border Services Agency because the Canadian children were living abroad.

Aerial view of the temple at the Yearn for Zion (YZF) Ranch,owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, near Eldorado, Texas. A total of 416 kids seized by state authorities appears to include some from B.C.

Aerial view of the temple at the Yearn for Zion (YZF) Ranch,owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, near Eldorado, Texas. A total of 416 kids seized by state authorities appears to include some from B.C.

"There are some Canadians involved," Oppal said Friday. "That doesn't surprise me given that we've been told there's a lot of movement back and forth in the communes.

"We know there are Americans in Bountiful. It's very difficult for the agencies to exactly get all the details."

Oppal said federal officials were still trying to confirm how many B.C. and Canadian children were seized in the raid, which occurred at the Yearn for Zion ranch last week over fears that teenage girls were being coerced into marrying, and in some cases being sexually abused by, much older men.

The compound is one of several homes of the breakaway Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. More than a thousand church members live in the closed community of Bountiful, in the B.C. Interior.

"I'm always concerned. It points out to us how encompassing it is and it really knows no borders when we hear of matters like this," Oppal said. "It's chaos down there now."

Oppal said the usual procedure in such cases is for federal officials to visit the Canadians and assist in providing legal counsel for those involved.

He added the province may send someone to Texas to monitor the proceedings in case there is evidence that might help in an eventual prosecution here.

"I would think about that. But first we would want to find out what type of evidence they have, and if it's something that relates to what is happening in Canada, we would get involved," he said.

Although lawyers may try to bring the children back to B.C., he said that might be difficult given that most of them live in Texas with their parents and only one of the children seized from the compound had complained about the situation.

He noted the Ministry of Children and Families can apprehend children only under certain circumstances.

"The ministry hasn't been able to apprehend anyone up here [at Bountiful] primarily because no one has complained regarding their welfare," he said. "The government here has offered sanctuary to kids and adults, but so far we haven't had any takers."

A Texas state official told the CBC earlier Friday that some of the children snatched from the fundamentalist Mormon compound were from Canada. But a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Texans have yet to say them that.

"Officials have been in contact with the Department of Family and Protective Services in San Angelo, Texas, to offer assistance to any Canadian children," said Eugenie Cormier-Lassonde in an e-mail. "To date, no confirmation has been received on the citizenship status of the children."

In San Angelo on Friday, the raucous hearings to determine custody of the children, which may be the largest in U.S. history, entered their second day.

Lawyers for the church and some of the children are trying to convince a judge that child welfare officials overstepped their bounds when they took all the ranch's children into protective custody.

But Child Protective Services supervisor Angie Voss maintained that the "culture of young girls being pregnant by older men" placed all the children at risk.

The girls, she said, were in danger of sexual abuse and the boys were being "groomed" to become perpetrators.

The department is asking the judge to place all the sect's children in the custody of the state after finding evidence in a days-long raid beginning April 3 that they say shows girls as young as 13 were "spiritually married" to significantly older men at the ranch.

Texas officials have said the raid was sparked by a desperate call for help by a 16-year-old girl who said she was frequently beaten by her 50-year-old husband and was pregnant again eight months after giving birth to her first child.

The girl's whereabouts remain mysterious, however, though officials say they found a number of other young girls at the ranch who were either pregnant or were already mothers.

Mainstream Mormons now excommunicate members who engage in polygamy and reject any connection with the FLDS.

with files from Canwest News Service

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