4 Sep 2008

Teachers union did not discriminate against polygamists: B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

Canwest News Service - Canada
September 4, 2008

by Tim Lai

VANCOUVER - The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint by a polygamist couple who alleged that the teachers union discriminated against them and their religious group by calling on the provincial government to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation in Bountiful, B.C.

Duane and Susie Palmer, who are members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, filed the complaint with the tribunal in December 2004. Duane is the superintendent of Mormon Hills School in Lister, B.C., the closest community to Bountiful in southeastern portion of the province near Creston, while Susie is a teacher there.

The Palmers alleged that three publications - a letter to the premier, a news release and petition - issued by the B.C. Teachers Federation were discriminatory on the grounds of marital and family status and religion.

They said that the publications "made several false and unfounded accusing statements" about the religious group and the Bountiful schools.

The Palmers said that "if the school teachers support the federation in this harassment, we are concerned our children will not be treated equally or graded fairly." They were also concerned that church members who are certified teachers wouldn't be accepted to work in B.C. public schools under this union.

In a BCTF letter to Premier Gordon Campbell dated Oct. 27, 2004 and signed by then-president Jinny Sims, the union urged the provincial government to launch an investigation into several allegations about Bountiful.

The letter outlined seven allegations: female students being encouraged to leave school before the age of 16, male students being shunned because they failed to abide by the religious code, low school completion rates, failure to abide by the curriculum, teaching racial and ethnic superiority and religious intolerance, girls being told they only needed to learn how to be wives and mothers, and the full curriculum not being taught.

In addition, the letter stated that "members of the BCTF were incredulous that the government had done nothing to pursue allegations of sexual abuse and trafficking of girls and women in the community."

A BCTF news release issued on Nov. 10, 2004 re-iterated the points of the letter to the premier and called for other government officials, including the attorney-general and minister of education to respond to the allegations.

The BCTF launched a petition against the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful that included more serious allegations such as assigning husbands to girls as young as 14, older men impregnating girls as young as 14 or 15, and casting out young men to maintain gender imbalance.

Tribunal member Lindsay M. Lyster wrote in her decision that while the Palmers were offended by the allegations of wrongdoing repeated in the publications, "finding a publication offensive, or disagreeing with its content or the purposes for which it was published, however, are not sufficient to establish discrimination."

Lyster dismissed the complaint on the basis that it had no reasonable prospect of success.

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