24 Jan 2011

Expert witness in constitutional case on polygamy claims Bountiful women freely choose their own religious oppression

CBC News - Canada December 1, 2010

Anti-polygamy law oppresses wives: McGill prof

The Canadian Press

Women living in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., don't feel oppressed because of their marriages, but because one of the central practices of their religion is considered a crime, a law professor testified Wednesday.

Angela Campbell of Montreal's McGill University was the first witness to appear at the landmark constitutional case, and her testimony was especially controversial. A day earlier, the provincial and federal governments — which are both arguing that polygamy should remain illegal — tried to block her appearance.

Campbell visited Bountiful in 2008 and 2009 and interviewed a number of women, including wives living in plural marriages. She interviewed 20 women in Bountiful, along with two who had left the community.

Before she visited, Campbell had read about the alleged harms of polygamy, which are central to the government's argument: that multiple marriage fosters sexual and physical abuse, creates child brides, requires boys to be expelled and leaves women unable to have any say in who they marry.

But Campbell said what she found instead were women who rejected the notion that polygamy inevitably leads to abuse or that they are unequal.

"In speaking with the community members about the risks of inequality and abuse ... the responses would be to the effect of, 'We're not treated badly, we've chosen to live this way, it's consistent with what we value,"' said Campbell.

Marriage trends shifting

Campbell said the women she interviewed told her adolescent marriages have been discouraged in recent years and women have more say in who they marry. Some were even using contraception, although she acknowledged that was often without their husbands' knowledge.

She said women in plural marriages valued their relationships with their husbands' other wives, referred to as "sister wives," who share in domestic responsibilities such as child care.

Campbell said it appeared the prohibition against polygamy was doing the most damage, stigmatizing the women and making it more difficult for them to seek outside help such as domestic or spousal counselling.

"There was a resistance to being in the spotlight, especially in the spotlight as a plural wife."

At any rate, Campbell said the law against polygamy wasn't working. While some of the women told Campbell they haven't always known that polygamy was a crime in Canada, they do now, and that prohibition isn't stopping polygamous marriages.

"Currently, [the law] is known because of the fact that there's so much attention on this community, politically, through law enforcement, through the media," she testified.

"The belief that this practice was mandated by faith was viewed as more important, yielding a stronger force on their lives than the state's rules."

More liberal sect

Residents in Bountiful practise a form of fundamentalist Mormonism, which teaches polygamy will help them enter the highest kingdom of heaven. The mainstream Mormon church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

About 1,000 people live in Bountiful, a small commune in southeastern B.C. near the U.S. border, and they're divided into two separate factions. One is led by James Oler, who has formal ties to the U.S.-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, and the other is led by Winston Blackmore, whose followers split from the FLDS in 2002.

The women Campbell interviewed were all members of Blackmore's congregation.

B.C. government lawyer Craig Jones noted Blackmore's followers have a reputation for being more liberal than Oler's, and liberalization has increased since the split in 2002.

He also noted that Campbell's research indicated Canada's laws against polygamy only became common knowledge in the community within the past few years.

"So it's safe to say in the time frame in which criminalization has been weighing more heavily on the residents' minds, that is also a period in which the community has become less insular and isolated?" said Jones.

"That's a fair parallel," replied Campbell.

Jones also questioned Campbell's conclusions that child brides and the so-called "lost boys" phenomenon, in which boys and young men with no one left to marry are cast out of the community, aren't major problems in Bountiful.

He asked Campbell whether she had any data, such as the ages at which women first gave birth or the graduation rates of boys and girls.

Campbell agreed such information would help determine whether those problems exist, but she hadn't researched it.

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The Vancouver Sun - Canada December 1, 2010

Women in polygamous Bountiful have happy lives, Vancouver hearing told

A different day, a different expert and a different view of polygamy

by Daphne Bramham

Women living in the polygamous community of Bountiful are leading happy, healthy, harmonious lives with some control over whom they marry, when they marry, how many children they have and what level of education they can attain.

That’s what 22 women from the 1,000-member community told McGill law professor Angela Campbell over a period of eight days during her two visits to the community in 2008 and 2009.

Campbell believed them.

But she never tested the veracity of what they told her. She never asked the women whether religious leaders had instructed them to talk to her. All of the women are or have been fundamentalist Mormons — 21 follow Winston Blackmore, and one is a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

(The fundamentalist Mormons broke with the mainstream Mormon church in 1890, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy.)

Based on what Campbell was told by the women who volunteered to talk about their lives as both polygamous and monogamous wives in Bountiful, Campbell concluded that polygamy ought to be decriminalized.

That’s what Campbell testified to Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court. She was the first expert witness to appear in the constitutional reference case to determine the polygamy law’s validity.

Campbell believes that the criminal sanction against polygamy stigmatizes women. It’s fear of prosecution or having their children taken away that results in their reluctance to access needed services or report other crimes. That is the real harm in polygamy, she says.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman will hear a very different narrative Thursday.

Dr. Larry Beall has treated or overseen treatment of 41 "survivors" as a practising clinical psychologist in Salt Lake City — 14 women aged 27 to 42 and 27 young men aged 16 to 21. All have had anxiety, depression and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Beall describes the fundamentalist Mormon sects as cults and notes that anyone who stays within the group is more likely to have positive things to say than those who leave.

The authoritarian nature of the communities negatively impacts adolescent development. Beall says independent thinking is shunned. Privacy is limited. Emotional expression is undesirable. Personal desires are unwanted.

So do women have choice? Do they have control? Not in Beall’s experience. If people have no opportunity to develop a sense of self, he says, far from being able to give voluntary or considered consent, women (or men) "can be expected to fulfil what is required of them by their leaders."

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Ottawa Citizen - Canada December 2, 2010

What harms do polygamy laws prevent?

by Kate Heartfield | Ottawa Citizen

The polygamy reference case has already made a valuable contribution: It has focused the debate on the question of harm. Apologists for the current law are now having to try to show that polygamy, in and of itself, always and necessarily hurts people. I don't believe they're succeeding, but I do see this as a promising first step toward creating a rational and effective legal strategy for dealing with abuse in polygamous communities.

Modern law -- and modern secular ethics, which defaults to some version of the Golden Rule -- is heavily influenced by the principle articulated by philosopher John Stuart Mill: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

That's not to say there aren't Canadian laws that have little to do with protecting individuals from harm; the polygamy law is one of them. But the modern proponents of the law know they have to work harm in somewhere, or the law risks being struck down, because courts these days tend to be very reluctant to tell consenting adults what they can do in their own bedrooms.

So the proponents argue the law is necessary to prevent associated harms.

Crown counsel Craig Jones tried to cover all the philosophical bases he could, and made a fine mess in the process, saying the law must be upheld to confirm the government's right to "impose some fundamental codes of moral behaviour for the protection of the vulnerable and to promote and advance our highest aspirations of equality and social justice." The "protection of the vulnerable" bit is in there to make John Stuart Mill happy.

The harms to be prevented include forced marriage, rape of young girls, expulsion of young men, and unequal family dynamics.

Forced marriage and rape are already illegal.

I've read the argument that we need the polygamy law because the police and Crown aren't enforcing other, sounder laws at their disposal that prevent forced marriage, or child abuse.

It's true that it can be difficult for victims to testify against abusers who are in authority over them.

That's true outside of polygamous contexts as well, and it's something the justice system must work to overcome, without requiring the clumsy workaround of an extra law that allows the state to keep one small but irksome peephole into the nation's bedrooms.

If some jerk who lives in a polygamous commune, or some other fundamentalist society, has only one wife, and she's 13, and he hits and rapes her and tells her to shut up and keep sweet -- well, all of that is illegal and should be prosecuted, even though the 13-year-old might be brainwashed and terrified. But you tell me how a polygamy law can help that girl.

Many laws, the polygamy law included, sometimes require the co-operation of victims. It's worth noting that the polygamy law is rarely enforced and has not prevented any of the harms we're all talking about.

The polygamy law manages to be both overreaching in principle (criminalizing consensual behaviour) and inadequate in practice (it hasn't stopped the abuse it supposedly targets).

As for unequal family arrangements, that's a more difficult question.

If we make polygamy illegal because, most of the time, polygamous unions involve patriarchal gender roles, are we also going to make patriarchal gender roles illegal in monogamous unions? If so, we're going to have to build a lot more prisons.

The relevant question, for the law, is not the number of people in the relationship, but whether they're adults who have freely consented. If the women in relationships of any number are being compelled or detained -- well, again, there are laws against that, and they ought to be enforced. And it's going to take hard work to get those women to come forward and seek help, polygamy law or no polygamy law.

If we Canadians decide to uphold the polygamy law -- by, for example, telling our representatives to use Section 33 of the Charter -- we'll be guilty of shrugging off the harm principle when it seems inconvenient.

Which principles, then, will form the basis of our law? In the absence of secular liberalism, which culture or religion gets to impose its sexual morality on the rest of us?

That's why it's important to strike down this law, and replace it with a sound legal strategy to enforce existing laws, to put abusers behind bars without incidentally criminalizing consensual sexual behaviour.

This case tests our willingness to tolerate needless exceptions to the principle that the government can only compel our behaviour when that behaviour affects other people.

At the core, this case isn't about freedom of religion, or freedom of association. It's about freedom, full stop.

This article was found at:



TIME - December 1, 2010

Will Polygamy Be Legalized in Canada?

by Belinda Luscombe

Canada is home to publicly funded universal health insurance, legal gay marriage, a justice system with no death penalty and several relatives of Michael Moore. So it's safe to say the nation has some significant ideological differences with its neighbor to the South. But even Canadians are apprehensive about a court case in Vancouver, British Columbia, that could lead to the legalization of polygamy.

The case centers on a breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C., that practices plural marriage. Attempts to prosecute members of the sect have been less than successful. Meanwhile, some of the polygamists have become quite open about their marital habits. The large family of Winston Blackmore, who allegedly has 19 wives and more than 100 children living together in a community in Bountiful, recently participated in a National Geographic TV special.

So, state and Canadian attorneys-general have asked the court to affirm the law against polygamy that is already in place. Some Mormon groups and civil libertarians claim that the law is unconstitutional because it violates rights to freedom of religion. The hearing, which has been underway for a week, is being heard in front of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman, and is expected to last until January. Craig Jones, a lawyer for the province, noted that if the law were overturned, Canada would be come the only western country to sanction polygamy.

Witnesses from plural marriages across the Americas have been called to testify. Some have said they find the arrangement very satisfying, but others have detailed the abuse they suffered under its strictures, particularly those who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), to which some of the Bountiful community are connected. Many of the witnesses are testifying anonymously, to protect them from subsequent prosecution.

"The criminal prohibition of polygamy baffles me," wrote an Arizonan woman, known as witness no. 8, in her affidavit. She's college educated and shares her husband with one other woman, known as as a "sister wife" (as watchers of reality TV or HBO know). "How do you truly force human minds to believe that which they don't?" she asks. Montreal-based law professor Angela Campbell, who's not a member of the sect, maintains the chief problem women face is that their dodgy legal status keeps them impoverished.

But still other witnesses, including the brother of James Oler, the leader of the Bountiful sect, have condemned the practice. They maintain it deprives women of choice in whom to marry, can lead to abuse of minors and is damaging to young men, who, unless they toe the line, are not given wives and are thrown out of the community into a world they have been brought up to despise. "It is damaging for children to grow up in that environment," says Truman Oler in his affidavit. "The FLDS does not permit anyone free choice. You are told what to do. If you don't follow the path, you will lose everything."

The FLDS members counter that their form of marriage is the most holy type and leads to celestial blessings. The Mormons generally value sublimation of self and, as one witness put it, maintaining "a kind and peaceful nature at all times, no matter what others do around me." The FLDS also shun contact with the outside world.

That's part of the problem, says Brent Jeffs, nephew of the imprisoned U.S. leader of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, and co-author (with Healthland contributor Maia Szalavitz) of the memoir Lost Boy, about his childhood in the sect. "The way of life that constitutes this religion is that of secrets and lies," he tells TIME. "These families should be exposed to the world around them to show that there are choices for each and every one of them and whatever way they want to live."

Lawyers for the community say that if polygamy were legalized, the members of the sect would not have to be so cut off from the rest of society. "The criminalization of polygamy drives its participants to separate themselves from mainstream society," says Robert Wickett, who represents the FLDS. "Members will testify that they do not want to live as pariahs, separate and apart from society."

This, however does not ring true with many ex-sect members, who say that they are prohibited from seeing family who are still members of the FLDS or other polygamous factions after they leave or are expelled.

As far as Jeffs is concerned, polygamy should "absolutely not" be legalized. "It's abusive for everyone involved."

This article was found at:



Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case. 

Judge allows controversial expert witness to testify in Canadian polygamy case, no decision yet on publication of video affidavits

Pro-polygamy intervenor groups make opening statements as first week of Canadian constitutional case ends

FLDS lawyer in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy claims members freely consent to plural marriage, abuse survivors disagree

Lawyer appointed to argue for striking down Canada's anti-polygamy law in constitutional case makes opening arguments

Canadian constitutional case on polygamy begins with BC government's opening statement

Unique Canadian constitutional case on polygamy set to begin November 22, 2010

Timeline of events leading up to Canadian constitutional case on polygamy which is set to begin

Survivor of abuse by Mormon polygamists documents accounts of sex crimes in the FLDS and other fundamentalist groups

Mormon fundamentalist leader asks court to exclude evidence against him in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Fundamentalist Mormon spokeswoman says polygamy doesn't hurt anyone

Mormon fundamentalist claims of religious persecution in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy not supported by the facts

Polygamist leader says BC attorney general guilty of religious persecution

Polygamist leader calls charges religious persecution

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Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children

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Judge will allow anonymous testimony from Mormon polygamists in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Mormon polygamists seek immunity from future prosecution before giving evidence in Canadian constitutional case

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Utah law professor uses Mormon polygamists as example of how religious extremism leads to deliberate child abuse

Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law (pdf)

Research paper submitted to B.C. court in constitutional case documents harms associated with polygamy

Man from Bountiful says girls in Mormon polygamist communities "treated like poison snakes", taught to obey men and have many children

Bountiful evidence that polygamy harms women and children - constitutional case likely to reach Canadian Supreme Court

Review of the positions 12 intervener groups are expected to take in upcoming Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Some religious practices, such as polygamy, are inherently harmful and should not be tolerated in modern society

Women's adovcates: polygamy is an “oppressive institution” that abuses and enslaves women and children

Prosecuting Polygamy in El Dorado by Marci Hamilton

Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearings on Polygamy Crimes: What Needs to Be Done at the Federal Level to Protect Children from Abuse and Neglect

Senate hearing: "Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response."

Texas Will Attempt to Show That Polygamist Culture Itself Harms Children

FLDS defendants complain their religious freedom violated, while denying religious freedom to their children

Children in Bountiful have religious rights too, but are denied them by parents claiming religious freedom

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

Polygamy is not freedom

Israeli politicians and women's advocates call for immediate change to polygamy law to protect rights of women and children

New study on polygamy in Malaysia finds evidence of harm to everyone involved

Indonesian Women's Association divided on whether polygamy, which is legal in Indonesia, is harmful to women and children

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