8 Nov 2010

Some Canadian children are protected from religion-related abuse, while others are not

The Argosy - New Brunswick, Canada October 11, 2009

Indecision Yields Bounty of Controversy

By John Brannen | Opinions and Editorials

Section 293 of Canada’s Criminal Code says that anyone who practices or enters into any form of polygamy, or any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, is guilty of an indictable offense. However, one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the freedom of conscience and religion. So what happens when a man justifies marriage to nineteen different wives on the basis of freedom of religion? First, let’s see how we got here in the first place.

In the Book of Mormon, Bountiful was a lush land containing "much fruit and also wild honey." Bountiful, British Columbia by contrast is a lush land containing much controversy and marriage gone wild. It is home to Canada’s largest fundamentalist Mormon polygamist commune where the entire population of roughly 1,000 comes from the gene pool of about twelve men. The most famous man and leader of Bountiful, Winston Blackmore has been at the center of controversy since he was charged for practicing polygamy.

After three appointed Crown prosecutors refused to touch the case, the BC Supreme Court judge threw the charges out. The prosecutors were afraid that the polygamy charges would be declared unconstitutional on the basis of religious freedom.

Why have the courts and governments refrained from pursuing this case? There is much at stake if they lose this case. Canada rejects the immigration of polygamous families - even those who are legally married in their own countries. They have consistently had their immigration applications denied on the grounds that polygamy is illegal. If the polygamy case in Bountiful was defeated, then Canada could not reject an applicant on the grounds of practicing polygamy.

Should freedom of religion trump the polygamy law? Some argue it may open the door to other practices, such as forced arranged marriages and female genital mutilation. However, this is not Canada’s first controversial religious decision. The B.C. government won judgments against Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions for their children and the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously rejected Adi Abdul Humaid's contention that Islamic culture justified the so-called "honour killing" of his wife, who was having an affair.

So what happens when a man justifies marriage to nineteen different wives on the basis of freedom of religion? Nothing. The status quo. Business as usual. It is surprising that BC and Canada are dragging their feet in this case. They stood up for the child who was refused blood transfusions on religious grounds but it appears they will not stand up for the fifteen year old children forced to marry men four times their age. Jane Blackmore — Winston’s ex-wife said in an interview that “there were lots who were married at 15.” Why don’t the courts charge Blackmore for rape or sexual exploitation?

This should and must be investigated further. Something must be done to send a message that multiple marriages to young children and impregnating them are wrong. It is not acceptable in a progressive liberal democratic country like Canada. Eventually, Canada will have to make a decision to support unfretted religious freedom or the rule of law. The hardest part will be finding the women and children of Bountiful willing to stand up and challenge their religious leaders.

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