9 Jan 2009

More persecution than prosecution

Montreal Gazette - Canada   January 9, 2009

Montreal Gazette Editorial

If it weren't so fundamentally unjust, there would be something almost refreshingly quaint about the decision of British Columbia's attorney-general to charge two elders of the Bountiful community with polygamy.

The year, in case law-enforcement agencies on the Pacific coast haven't received their new calendars yet, is 2009. For better or worse, Canada has gone well beyond the point of having the government regulate the sexual arrangements of consenting adults. The Criminal Code might still ban polygamy, as it once banned adultery and fornication, but in an age that blesses same-sex marriages and tolerates swinger clubs, surely that's an archaism. When Pierre Trudeau famously said that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, he did not specify that he meant bedrooms occupied by only two people.

And how do you define polygamy anyway? If a man can persuade two or more women to live with him, that's not illegal. And a Crescent St. hustler, male or female, who's able to string along two partners at the same time might be a cad or a hussy, but surely not a criminal. What, then, creates the crime? The fact that someone performs some kind of wedding ceremony? The only possible good that can come out of this misbegotten prosecution is that the Supreme Court will toss out this outdated law as unconstitutional, or at least clarify what it means in the 21st century..

Just to be clear, our position on this issue does not mean we endorse polygamy as a healthy lifestyle choice. Nor do we excuse rape, molestation or coercion. In fact, if there's any evidence that the two men charged in this affair - Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, rival leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - have abused underage girls, physically or sexually, then we say throw the book at them. Or if it can be demonstrated that they've abused their religious authority to entice young girls into their beds or their friends' beds, then charge them under the relevant sections of the Criminal Code.

But the fact is that British Columbia's law-enforcement authorities have failed to dredge up any such evidence, in spite of ample opportunity. After 20 years and questioning and investigating, the only charge they've been able to support is polygamy, and that's just not good enough. To pursue Blackmore and Oler simply because we find their marriage customs creepy or repulsive reeks more of persecution than prosecution.

Unfortunately, British Columbia will most likely get away with it. The people of Bountiful have few friends. Even the Mormons, of whom they claim to be an offshoot, have disowned them. But that doesn't make it any less reprehensible.

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