12 Jan 2009

Polygamy charges won't have desired effect

The Star Phoenix - Saskatoon
January 10, 2009

by Les MacPherson |Star Phoenix

Oh, what a mighty groan must have gone up from the prospective judges when polygamy charges were filed against members of a creepy religious sect at Bountiful, B.C.

Now the courts get to determine whether polygamy is a crime, as stipulated in the Criminal Code, or a religious freedom, as guaranteed by the charter. If the courts find polygamy to be criminal, they'll be denounced for religious persecution. If they rule instead that polygamy is legal, they'll get it for supporting a secretive cult suspected of forcing underage girls to marry men in their 50s.

For the moment, however, no one is charged with anything but polygamy. Despite years of hostile scrutiny by B.C. justice authorities -- the Bountiful sect was established in 1946 and has been closely watched ever since -- there is no convincing evidence of crimes against children. Neither is there evidence of anyone held against their will. The belated polygamy charges thus look more like a nuisance suit than a legitimate exercise in justice.

Polygamy is rarely prosecuted in Canada, and when it has been, sentences are minimal. Now, with the charter in play, the courts might well rule that polygamy is a constitutionally protected right, rather as they did with same-sex marriage. It was for these and other reasons that a study done for the federal Justice Department recommended in 2005 the laws against polygamy be repealed.

The precedent for redefining marriage already is established. If genders can be mixed and matched, there's no reason to believe the courts will get hung up on numbers. More likely, they will remind us that religious freedom was not enshrined in the Constitution to protect only those religions we like. Popular religions don't need protection. Neither do consenting adults.

However the case is resolved, it almost certainly will be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, at great expense to the public and the accused. And for what? A decision in favour of polygamy will have the perverse effect of legitimizing, at least to some extent, the very sect B.C. justice authorities are trying to reign in. In the unlikely event of convictions, the two accused patriarchs will soon be home with their multiple wives, but with a criminal conviction. They'll wear it as a badge of honour.

With religious zealotry effectively on trial, there is also the risk of court proceedings degenerating into a circus. At the very least, we can expect multiple wives lining up to testify they're content with domestic arrangements as they are, thank you and amen. Of course, they won't get to step down from the witness stand without mentioning the biblical endorsements of polygamy. King David, for instance, had six wives and numerous concubines and nevertheless was blessed by the Lord. King Solomon, likewise blessed, had 700 wives. Sadly, the Bible does not record how Solomon liked being told 700 times every day not to throw his dirty socks on the floor.

There is also the little problem here of selective prosecution. If polygamous marriage is a crime, why are only the husbands facing charges?

Even more troubling is the spectacle of the Canadian state picking on a religious minority. Canada traditionally has welcomed religious minorities. We celebrate our diversity and our tolerance, and rightly so. For years, polygamy laws have not been enforced. Why dust them off now, except to go after an unpopular sect that can't be prosecuted for anything else?

These polygamy charges are lame. If there is child abuse, by all means prosecute the perpetrators. That's what the Americans did. Warren Jeffs, former leader of the same polygamous sect, is serving 10 years to life in a Utah jail after his conviction last year as an accomplice to rape. Evidence showed he forced a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin, who then raped her repeatedly. Jeffs is now facing similar charges in Arizona. In Bountiful, however, there is no convincing evidence of any such thing. Instead, authorities are using dubious polygamy charges to punish the accused for other crimes that cannot be proven.

This is more of an affront to Canadian justice than any number of wives.

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment