24 Jan 2011

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

The Vancouver Sun - Canada November 29, 2010

Polygamy on trial: First expert witness will offer controversial testimony

by Daphne Bramham

Angela Campbell's research on polygamy has been both widely quoted and widely criticized.

Yet on Tuesday, Campbell is scheduled as the first expert witness to testify in B.C. Supreme Court in the constitutional reference case to determine whether the Criminal Code's polygamy section is valid.

She is expected to argue that polygamy ought to be decriminalized because the harms caused to women and children stem not from plural marriages, but from the societal stigma that attaches to them.

“Although the threat of criminal sanction does not seem to thwart or halt polygamy in [the fundamentalist Mormon community of] Bountiful, participants indicated that the fact that polygamy is criminalized causes them to feel stigmatized and looked upon with disdain within the larger community,” Campbell writes.

Because of that stigma, she says, they are marginalized from the mainstream and less likely likely to seek services or help for themselves or their children; they are afraid that they might be arrested, jailed or have their children taken away from them.

Campbell has filed two affidavits (download first, second here) to support the position being argued by George Macintosh, the court-appointed amicus curiae or 'friend of the court.'

The attorneys-general of B.C. and Canada are arguing that the law is a justifiable limitation on religious freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association because of polygamy's associated harms.

But there's a chance that Campbell won't be allowed to testify.

Craig Jones, lawyer for the B.C. attorney-general, is expected to challenge her before she gives testimony, because much of what Campbell writes in her affidavits and plans to say Tuesday is based on interviews with 22 anonymous women done on two visits to Bountiful over a total of 12 days.

But privacy contracts Campbell signed with the women mean that none of their names are available, nor are full transcripts of her interviews.

And that makes cross-examination very difficult.

Another expert witness – law professor Nicholas Bala from Queen's University – has suggested in his affidavit that Campbell's research is based on “a sample of women who are most positively disposed [to] this practise.”

Bala, whose affidavit was filed by Stop Polygamy in Canada, suggests that women whose experiences with polygamy were negative might have been intimidated into silence.

None of the women interviewed belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints even though half of Bountiful's 1,000 people are members of it and even though it is the largest known polygamous group in North America with an estimated 15,000 members.

Campbell's interview subjects all follow Winston Blackmore, who was Bountiful's FLDS bishop until being ex-communicated in 2002.

Campbell rejects criticism of her research, saying in her affidavit that “my research interviews ... offered a balanced portrayal of what their lives are like.”

Those who are in polygamous marriages “were able to identify, acknowledge and talk about difficult aspects of polygamy.”

Some others had “chosen monogamous marriage.” Yet, Campbell also explains that fundamentalist Mormons do not choose their marriage partners. Instead, they believe they are chosen by God, who reveals those pairings to the prophet when the time is right. In turn, the prophet (or the bishop) tells the couple, who frequently don't know one another, of God's choice for them.

Campbell offers no evidence other than unnamed women's assertions that girls as young as 15 and 16 are no longer being placed in arranged marriages.

And she has nothing to back her claims that women are free to choose contraception, other than her assertion that “some” women told her that they wanted birth control that was “invisible” to their husbands; others had sought information about “natural birth control” and another who described contraception as “taboo” and “very frowned upon.”

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The Globe and Mail - Canada November 30, 2010

Montreal professor who calls polygamy laws harmful can testify, judge rules


The British Columbia judge overseeing a landmark reference case on Canada’s polygamy law has given a green light to hearing evidence from Angela Campbell, a law professor at McGill University who has said that the criminal prohibition against polygamy is harmful.

Lawyers representing the attorneys-general of Canada and B.C., as well as counsel for the group Stop Polygamy in Canada, argued Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court that Prof. Campbell was not qualified to be an expert witness in the case.

Prof. Campbell sat in the witness box as lawyers grilled her about her résumé and research experience and techniques.

Reading from transcripts of interviews conducted by Prof. Campbell, Leah Greathead, a lawyer for the province, said the lengthy questions often only received a “yeah” in response.

“In our profession, that would be called leading,” Ms. Greathead said.

Lawyers for the province said the attorneys-general would be willing to have Prof. Campbell’s interviews with Bountiful residents admitted into the proceeding but objected to her affidavits being included.

Chief Justice Robert Bauman said both her affidavits and transcriptions of her interviews would be admitted.

Introduced in court as a legal scholar and researcher who has studied the ban on polygamy and Bountiful in particular, Prof. Campbell visited the southeastern B.C. community in 2008 and 2009 to interview women as part of her research.

She has filed two affidavits with the court outlining her opinion that the prohibition against polygamy is harmful.

“The criminalization of polygamy has had adverse outcomes for Bountiful’s residents,” Prof. Campbell wrote in her affidavit. “That is, residents of Bountiful feel ashamed, stigmatized and highly anxious because their way of life is branded as criminal.”

She said the women she spoke with told her that marriages involving adolescent girls are discouraged, and some women were allowed input into who they marry. She said if there are harms associated with polygamy, the law appears unable to prevent them and instead makes it more difficult for people living in polygamous communities to seek help.

Brian Samuels, a lawyer for Stop Polygamy in Canada, noted Prof. Campbell was trained in law, and not in sociology, psychology or ethnography. He also questioned her expertise in the sort of qualitative, interview-based research she conducted in Bountiful, even though she currently teaches a research course at McGill.

Mr. Samuels asked Prof. Campbell whether she was aware that Bountiful has a reputation for secrecy and that people in such closed religious communities might be encouraged to be deceptive to outsiders. Prof. Campbell said that she was aware.

Mr. Samuels than asked how Prof. Campbell could trust what the women in Bountiful had told her.

“I think it’s acceptable for the researcher to accept the veracity of the statements that were told to her … so long as there is critical reflection on the comments and the research methods,” she said.

Prof. Campbell acknowledged that she never asked the women she interviewed whether the community’s religious leaders had asked them to speak or told them what to say. She was concerned asking such a question would be insulting.

George Macintosh, a court-appointed amicus, who will argue against the polygamy law, described Mr. Samuels’s questioning as a “continuing attack.”

The B.C. criminal justice branch charged the leaders of Bountiful, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, with practising polygamy but the charges were quashed in court because several legal opinions had recommended against such charges previously.

The province then asked the B.C. Supreme Court last year to examine whether the prohibition against polygamy violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Oler claim.

The provincial and federal governments maintain that polygamy inherently fosters sexual abuse and discrimination against women. Those arguing against the law say that criminalizing multiple marriages violates the guarantee of religious freedom and stigmatizes people living in polygamous communities.

In addition to experts lining up in both camps, the court will hear testimony from people currently living in polygamous marriages, as well as women and children who have left polygamous communities.

Earlier in the day, Judge Bauman delayed his decision about whether video affidavits from 14 ex-wives and children from polygamous relationships can be broadcast publicly. Their content has already been reported, but the Crown does not want them broadcast on TV or the Internet unless witnesses specifically consent.

One of the witnesses, Ruth Lane, complained after an edited clip of her testimony appeared on a local newspaper website.

That matter was put off until Ms. Lane can address the court by telephone.

With a report from The Canadian Press

View the combined opening statements in this case at:


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Winnipeg Free Press - Canada November 29, 2010

Video testimony offers a glimpse behind the closed doors of polygamy
By: James Keller, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Carolyn Jessop was 18 years old when she was forced to marry a 50-year-old man, becoming his third wife. By the time she fled in 2003, she had eight children.

Don Fischer says he was shipped between sects of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Hildale, Utah, and Bountiful, B.C., until he was finally expelled at age 16, becoming one of the so-called "lost boys" of polygamy.

Ruth Lane was wife No. 10 for Winston Blackmore, one of the polygamous leaders of Bountiful, until she left four years ago. But despite a broken heart, Lane wants Canada's ban on multiple marriage struck down.

They are among the former wives and children of polygamy who've offered their stories, captured on video by government lawyers, to a landmark case in B.C. to determine whether the federal law barring multiple marriage is in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A judge will decide Tuesday whether the video affidavits can be viewed by the public. The videos have been filed with the court and handed to journalists, who can report on the testimony of each witness, but the Crown has asked the videos themselves be kept off TV and the Internet.

There are 14 such videos and a number of other witnesses who have submitted written affidavits or will appear in person before the B.C. Supreme Court judge hearing the reference case.

The Crown wants the law upheld, and contends that polygamy is inherently harmful to women and children.

Lawyers fighting the law say it's the legal ban, not polygamy itself, that has shackled the lives of those who practise "celestial marriage."

Carolyn Jessop has become a vocal critic of polygamy and the FLDS, a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, which itself abandoned polygamy more than a century ago.

Earlier this year, Jessop released an autobiography titled, "Triumph: Life After the Cult, a Survivor's Lesson."

In her video affidavit, Jessop describes a husband who was constantly abusive to her and her eight children, including a young boy who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She says he tried to prevent her from taking her son to the hospital and having his cancer treated — hinting, she says, that God was killing the child to punish her for her disobedience.

That was the breaking point. She waited until he was out of town one night, frantically gathered her children in a van and drove off.

"I thought, if I had to let my baby die to get into heaven, maybe heaven isn't the place I want to be," she says to a B.C. government lawyer asking questions from behind the camera.

"I didn't want this life for my kids."

Sitting at a table in her home, her legs crossed and her hands folded on her lap, Jessop breaks down in tears when the subject turns to her children but quickly regains her composure. She's told this story many times before.

She ended up in Salt Lake City, she says, living in shelters on welfare for several years. Her eldest daughter moved back to the church, but she eventually won legal custody of her kids.

She says polygamy puts the power in the hands of men, who yield it over their wives.

"When you live in a way that's incredibly unnatural like this, unnatural things happen, and they're ugly," she says.

"I don't think you can have equality in that lifestyle, I don't think it's possible. ... It's just a psychological warfare that devastates lives."

Ruth Lane looks back on her life differently.

Lane left Bountiful in 2006, less than a year after she appeared on the daytime TV show "Dr. Phil" extolling the virtues of polygamous life. She grew up in Colorado City, Ariz., until she married Blackmore at age 15 — at her own request, she says.

Sitting in a pink tank top, her brown hair tied behind her head, Lane smiles even when she's describing the breakdown of her marriage to Blackmore. She was wife No. 10. Her younger sister was No. 11.

Blackmore eventually had 25 wives and more than 130 children, she says.

"The first couple of years for me were golden, we had a lot of fun until we had more kids and started getting more cramped," she says.

"I was pregnant for the seventh time, knowing that I was doing this again all by myself. I really felt like that I wanted a relationship, and he pretty much said he definitely would not work on a relationship. ... It's like I told my daughter, he broke my heart, so I left him."

Yet Lane opposes Canada's ban on polygamy, and advocates allowing adult women to enter into polygamous marriages.

"I really would like the people that want to do that lifestyle — if my daughter does choose that lifestyle, I'd very much like her to be able to live it within the law," she tells the camera. "I would like her to have the ability to be proud and be a somebody, not just a plural wife, but a wife."

Don Fischer says he was one of more than 30 children his father had with three wives. A rebellious teen, he says he stuck up for his siblings in the face of his father's physical abuse and paid a price for it.

At 14, he was sent from Utah to live in Bountiful, in what he describes as a "labour camp." He returned to Utah two years later, after his father died and his mother — along with the rest of her "sister wives" — was about to remarry.

He was expelled along with his brothers for misbehaving, "repented" and returned after eight months on his own. At 18, Fischer left Utah and returned to Canada, and Blackmore's fold.

"But I decided I wasn't interested in that, either, so I got completely out of the entire religion altogether," he says.

He's now 26 and has two of his own children. He hasn't seen his parents or most of his siblings in years.

"You didn't know it then, but now that I'm out here, I didn't exist out there, I wasn't a person, I wasn't alive," says Fischer.

"You get to decide what you want to do and where you want to go and who you want to be with," he said of life outside of the FLDS. "You have the choices, you're free to be somebody, whereas out there, you do what they say. You're one of their slaves, you're pretty much treated as cattle."

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. 
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