9 May 2008

Time to do something about Bountiful

Vancouver Sun - Canada
May 8, 2008

by Daphne Bramham

Time's up, Premier. Six generations of B.C. children have had their spirits broken and their dreams dashed, while your government and its predecessors have dithered over what to do about Bountiful.

The constitutional right of six generations of children to associate with whomever they choose have been stripped from them by prophets who insist it is their religious right to assign girls into plural marriages.

Six generations of children have been denied access to a good education even though taxpayers fund their schools. Six generations have been denied the choice of what to wear, what music to play, what to read. They have been denied the constitutionally guaranteed right to freely move about the their neighbourhood, to say nothing of the wider world.

Six generations of children. And the B.C. government has done nothing to protect them.

Instead, Premier, you and your predecessors have been too concerned about protecting the rights of their oppressors, the patriarchs who have admitted to both breaking the Criminal Code prohibition on polygamy and having sex with under-aged girls.

Small wonder that both Corky Evans, the New Democrat who for most of the last 20 years has represented the Kootenay riding that includes Bountiful, and Bill Bennett, the Liberal from the neighbouring constituency, prefaced their recent remarks in the legislature by saying that the issue should not be a partisan one. There is more than enough blame to go around.

Two generations have grown up during the period the B.C. government has hidden behind undisclosed legal opinions that polygamy is the cost of religious freedom and because someone somewhere says the government might lose in court.

Despite the Canadian Constitution, the UN conventions on equality rights and the rights of the child and study after study that indicates polygamy is inherently harmful to women and children, the B.C. government is complicit in denying rights and freedoms to Bountiful's children.

Upholding human rights is a hard business. But it's one that Canadians - except for those children in Bountiful - have grown up believing is one that is worth the effort. Canadian men and women are ostensibly fighting in Afghanistan for that very reason.

Attorney-General Wally Oppal has promised action for three years, having inherited the RCMP investigation reluctantly ordered in 2004 by his Liberal predecessor.

Two special prosecutors later, the best on offer is a recommendation that the anti-polygamy law be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal for the justices determine whether it is constitutional. Inevitably, to the Supreme Court of Canada with the whole process taking 18 months at minimum.

Had the government taken the advice of Richard Peck, the first special prosecutor, the case might well have already been heard by the Court of Appeal and on its way to the Supreme Court. But Oppal wanted a criminal case, not a referral.

He had hoped for a witness or the same good fortune as his Texas counterpart, who ordered a raid of the sect's compound after a series of panicked phone calls from a young woman alleging physical and sexual abuse.

The phone call may have been a hoax, but Texas authorities now have plenty of evidence that abuse is endemic within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon church).

Within weeks of the raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch, one under-aged girl gave birth to a baby boy. Of the 53 girls aged 14 to 17 in care, 31 are either pregnant or have had children. And because polygamy is at the root of this sect's beliefs, the stark arithmetic of the old patriarchs taking multiple wives showed up in the numbers of boys at the ranch. There are three times as many teenaged girls as there are boys.

Connections between the Texas ranch and B.C. are legion. At least five women from Bountiful are known to be at the ranch and at least one child is in state care.

Documents seized at the ranch include letters from Canadian FLDS members to their jailed prophet, Warren Jeffs. Convicted of sex crimes in Utah, he is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges there.

Still B.C. has not sent any lawyers or social workers down to check on them, find out whether they went there willingly or even to take a look at what evidence Texas has collected. And, once again, the Canadian government is leaving a child at the mercy of the American justice system as it did with 16-year-old Omar Khadr, whose indoctrination to al-Qaida is scarcely different from the programming of FLDS children.

It's shameful that the B.C. government's failure to protect innocent children has gained Bountiful's neighbour Creston the moniker "Polygamy Capital of Canada." What's frightening is that if nothing is done and even though the majority of Canadians polled say they would favour prosecuting polygamists, soon Canada could become the Polygamy Capital of the World because even Islamic countries are outlawing the practise.

Yet even if Oppal acquiesces and refers the polygamy law to the Court of Appeal, the B.C. government has still done nothing to protect the children. It's left itself open to a class-action suit by hundreds, if not thousands, of children and you and I could end up paying for the damages.

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