8 Jan 2009

What took so long in Bountiful?

National Post - Canada
January 8, 2009

National Post Editorial Board

On Tuesday, B.C. officials charged two rival leaders from the province’s rural Bountiful community with polygamy. To which our response is: Great. But why now? Why not four years ago?

Bountiful has long been a slap in the face to Canadian law. An offshoot of an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its 1,000-odd residents practise polygamy under the primary leadership of Winston Blackmore, a man who has fathered approximately 80 children with 26 “wives.” As recently as 2003, the group was spiritually controlled by a U.S.-based “prophet,” Warren Jeffs, a man now incarcerated at Utah State Prison for acting as accomplice to rape.

We could go on providing more details about Bountiful, but we won’t: Suffice it to say that it shares the same sort of nucleus as similarly creepy fringe religious communities and cults: a small group of controlling men using scripture as a pretext to have sex with many young women.

What with Canada being a world leader in the protection of women’s rights, one would think the authorities would have swooped in on Bountiful as soon as the first rumors of abuse began surfacing in 2004 and 2005 — especially since Jeffs himself, then one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted fugitives, was a repeated visitor to the community.

Instead, the B.C. government sat on its hands while legal experts dithered about whether Bountiful’s polygamists had a constitutional right to break our marriage laws. One special prosecutor mused that the courts should first be asked to weigh in on the abstract question of whether the state even had the right to ban polygamy in the first place. Only now, four years later, are charges finally being laid.

There is really no reason the process should have taken this long. We believe this nation’s judges are intelligent enough to realize that the state has the right to insist on a definition of marriage that does not permit the accumulation of harems under Christian guise. But even if a lower-court judge decides otherwise, the decision may be appealed — on up to the Supreme Court of Canada in necessary, after which the Notwithstanding clause is always a possibility.

The legal process that awaits the leaders of Bountiful may well be a long one. All the more reason that it should have been started several years ago.

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