14 Jan 2009

Polygamy is not freedom

Globe and Mail - Canada
January 14, 2009

Globe Editorial

The protection of religious freedom in Canada's Constitution does not and should not extend to polygamy. It is a non sequitur to suggest otherwise. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a statement of the country's core values. Its purpose is not to demolish those values but to uphold them.

Human dignity is the most basic of the core values, as Supreme Court judges have said over and over again. That implies protection of the vulnerable and a commitment to equality. The constitutional question, in the polygamy prosecution of two men from Bountiful, B.C., who were charged last week, comes down to whether the government has reason to believe that polygamy is so harmful to the vulnerable and so unequal by its nature that it damages human dignity.

To some extent, the case turns on the evidence of harm to Bountiful's women and children (including the so-called lost boys, who reportedly tend to lose out to older folks in the competition for the available females). It should be borne in mind, though, that the precedent goes well beyond Bountiful; one Muslim group, for instance, has said it would intervene at the Supreme Court, if the case reaches that stage, to argue that those Canadian Muslims who practise it should be charged. In any event, Winston Blackmore, one of the two men charged, is said by the author of a book on Bountiful to have approximately 26 wives and 115 children. It is difficult to see how the children of such a grouping can grow up with anything like free choice in matters of the heart, of a life partner, of sex. These are basic matters, and coercion or the denial of choice in them is an affront to human dignity.

Some commentators have said this case tests the limits of Canadian tolerance. That's true, but it also tests the country's resolve to protect the vulnerable. The Charter is not a document of absolutes; its very first section sets out that several other sections are subject to such limits as the government can show are justified in a free and democratic society. Mr. Blackmore apparently has a copy of the Charter on the wall of his office; but he's wrong if he thinks the Charter means anything goes.

If it did, everything would be up for grabs – wife assault, genital mutilation, culturally specific practices of corporal punishment, Islamic courts. Canada's Constitution does not allow for a misguided equality among any and all practices, no matter how harmful and abhorrent. The Constitution permits government to draw a line in the sand, and the government was right to draw one here.

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment