3 Jun 2008

3rd prosecutor named to investigate polygamy in Bountiful, B.C.

CBC - British Columbia
June 3, 2008

B.C.'s attorney general has appointed a third special prosecutor to investigate whether charges should be laid against members of the polygamist community of Bountiful, in the province's southeastern Interior.

Wally Oppal instructed the province's Criminal Justice Branch to hire another special prosecutor, Terrence Robertson, to review the results of the latest police investigation and consider charges.

Robertson will look at results of the RCMP investigation, consider charges, offer advice to the police, write a report, and if he believes charges are warranted, conduct the prosecution.

Oppal said he disagrees with the recommendations of two previous special prosecutors, Richard Peck and Leonard Doust, whom he appointed, and who both recommended the Criminal Justice Branch not proceed with charges.

"I think this is something we, as a society, need to be concerned with. The whole idea of men with senior ages, 50-year-old men, having relationships with younger women between the ages of 14 and 16 and 17 … I think Canadians would find abhorrent," said Oppal.

In April, Doust, a prominent Vancouver lawyer, recommended the government ask the courts to clarify whether the law prohibiting polygamy is constitutional before considering pressing charges.

Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada explicitly bans polygamy and threatens offenders with a five-year prison term.

But Doust declined Oppal's request that he prosecute on the polygamy allegation when the two met in May, saying he felt it would be unfair.

On Monday in a written statement, Oppal said upholding the law is not unfair, and that's why he has asked the criminal justice branch to appoint Robertson as the third special prosecutor to handle the investigation.

"It is my opinion that the Criminal Justice Branch is mistaken in its belief that section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada is unconstitutional. Both Mr. Doust and Mr. Peck believe section 293 to be constitutionally valid legislation. A valid criminal law is and should be enforced. To do so is appropriate and is not unfair," Oppal said in written statement.

The polygamist community of Bountiful is home to a community of several hundred polygamists with links to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the U.S.

A woman who used to live in Bountiful said she hopes the latest special prosecutor will recommend charges be laid.

Debbie Palmer, who left Bountiful 20 years ago with her eight children, told CBC News on Monday she wishes the provincial government would approach the issue more directly.

"I thought that he [Oppal] would have the power to go ahead and designate that they should go ahead and prosecute charges of polygamy and child sexual assault without asking for yet another opinion," Palmer said.

Texas ruling allows children, parents to reunite

In Texas on Monday, a judge ordered the return of more than 400 children taken by state authorities from a ranch run by the polygamist group.

According to the ruling, parents are allowed to pick up their children but can't leave Texas without court permission and must participate in parenting classes.

They have also been ordered not to interfere with any ongoing child abuse investigation and to allow the children to have psychiatric or medical exams if required.

The order comes days after the Texas Supreme Court said child welfare officials had no right to seize hundreds of children from the west Texas ranch.

Child welfare officials removed more than 400 children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, about 300 kilometres northwest of San Antonio.

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