Canadian court tackling polygamy question
BY LINDSAY WHITEHURST | Salt Lake Tribune
A Canadian judge is now considering a landmark challenge to his country’s ban on polygamy as unconstitutional — a case being closely watched in Utah.
Testimony ended last week in the proceeding, sparked by the Canadian branch of a polygamous sect based in Utah. Since late November, British Columbia Chief Justice Robert Bauman has heard from nearly 20 witnesses — some of them Utahns — and taken many more affidavits and video testimonies about plural marriage.
The justice is expected to issue a ruling later this year on whether an anti-polygamy law dating to 1892 violates Canada’s guarantee of freedom of religion. The Utah Attorney General’s Office will be watching that ruling, said spokesman Paul Murphy.
“I think it will inform us,” he said. “Canada is tackling the same issues we have, in that we have this law but for the most part it hasn’t been enforced by any law enforcement agency.”
Utah’s bigamy law makes it a felony to marry or co-habitate with more than one husband or wife, though Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has focused on investigating crimes within polygamous groups rather than the practice itself.
Polygamists have also been observing the “historic” proceedings, said Marlyne Hammon, a member of the action committee for the polygamous community of Centennial Park, located just south of the Utah state line in Arizona.
“If Canada were to drop that law, it would send quite an important message out to the world,” she said. “They can see [polygamy] is not what everyone says. It’s about people.”
The case began in 2009 when the attorney general of British Columbia filed charges against James Oler and Winston Blackmore, two leaders of separate factions in a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settlement known as Bountiful. Authorities had been investigating polygamy at Bountiful since at least 1990, but had feared running afoul of the country’s religious freedom laws. Fundamentalist Mormons believe in polygamy as a religious principle.
In 2007, then-Attorney General Wally Oppal appointed the first of three different special prosecutors to review the case; two years later, charges were filed. When a court threw them out on religious freedom grounds, the new attorney general asked the Supreme Court to investigate whether the polygamy law is constitutional.
On Nov. 22, the chief justice started a proceeding called a constitutional reference question. The first part of the inquiry focused primarily on expert testimony.
One professor said that plural marriage violates international human rights laws and another linked it to increases in social ills, such as crime and discrimination against women, according to the Globe and Mail of Toronto and The Province of Vancouver. But lawyers arguing against the law pointed to a Cornell legal study concluding that, even though polygamy laws are seldom enforced, they keep people in those communities from reporting abuse to authorities, the Vancouver Sun reported.
One of Utah’s most high-profile former polygamists espoused a similar point of view. Carolyn Jessop wrote a best-selling book chronicling the intimidation and abuse she and her children suffered in the FLDS culture, but nevertheless testified in Canada that polygamy should be decriminalized.
“What’s happening is children are being born into this, but we don’t have the same rights, we don’t have any protections,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Jessop as saying. “It’s not being prosecuted, but it’s not being regulated, either. My theory is decriminalizing the crime would be giving people some rights, so we have claim to property, we have claim to help.”
Other Utah voices included Mary Batchelor, of the pro-polygamy advocacy group Principal Voices, and her co-founder Anne Wilde, whose podcast was played during the proceedings.
Several women from the FLDS and other polygamous groups have testified, many anonymously, to their personal experiences. While one told stories of loving her large, close plural family, another reported feeling isolated and helpless, Canadian newspapers reported.
After testimony ends, lawyers on both sides will prepare their closing arguments, which will begin in late March. Though Bauman’s eventual ruling will likely be appealed, the outcome is poised to influence decisions about whether to prosecute polygamists in both British Columbia and the rest of the country, a law officer with the British Columbia Supreme Court said.
Even if the law is struck down, Hammon said she doesn’t foresee a rush of plural families from the U.S. moving to Canada. A total of about 38,000 polygamists live in Utah, many as part of about four major groups.
“The people here in this state, we’ve established ourselves in our homes,” Hammon said. “We want to continue on fighting for our civil rights.”
The decision will not likely have much direct effect on U.S. policy toward plural marriage, said University of Utah law professor Wayne McCormack.
“The U.S. has its own particular history with polygamy,” he said.
A pair of Supreme Court rulings that found religious freedom does not empower breaking the law have cooled interest in the polygamy question going before the justices, he said. Unless, that is, the Supreme Court takes up the issue of same-sex marriage.
“That would resuscitate the interest in polygamy,” McCormack said. “The U.S. courts are not going to be interested in polygamy until they have first dealt with same-sex marriage.”
This article was found at:
For Mormon polygamists in Canadian case religious freedom means enslaving women, sexualizing girls, exploiting boys
Two more plural wives testify in Canadian polygamy case, see no problem with forced marriage or trafficking child brides
Testimony of first FLDS witness in Canadian polygamy case reveals women in denial that their children are being abused
First anonymous FLDS witness in Canadian polygamy case paints cosy picture of plural marriage, seems oblivious to abuses
Affidavit in Canadian polygamy case reveals shocking statistics on child trafficking, child brides and teen mothers in Bountiful
Economics professor considers financial aspects of polygamy that create inequality
Two Mormon fundamentalist women from Utah tell Canadian court positive accounts of polygamy, no hint of abuse
Brother of FLDS bishop describes intellectual abuse, child labour, spiritual abuse and loveless religion in Canadian polygamy case
No freedom from religion for women and children in Mormon polygamist towns where men claim religious freedom to abuse
Mormon polygamist survivor tells court babies smothered to keep quiet, emotional and spiritual abuse worse than sex abuse
Video testimony by Mormon fundamentalist in Canadian court says polygamy provides happy life and harms no one
Survivor tells Canadian court extreme abuses including water torture of babies common in Mormon polygamist communities
FLDS bishop of Bountiful will not testify in Canadian polygamy case so his affidavit will not be read into record
Legal expert tells Canadian court polygamy prohibitions and monogamy tradition pre-date Christianity
The issue of women's rights in the Canadian constitutional review of the polygamy law
Expert in polygamy case says society should assume all members of sects have free choice, but what about children?
B.C. government expert in polygamy case sets out long list of social harms, societies that abandon polygamy do better
Court views video affidavits from Mormon fundamentalist survivors detailing pedophilia, incest, child trafficking and forced marriage
Polygamy expert tells court in constitutional case that it reduces women's freedom and equality and leads to forced marriage
Affidavits from survivors and psychologist's testimony in constitutional case show abusive nature of polygamous lifestyle
Expert witness in constitutional case on polygamy claims Bountiful women freely choose their own religious oppression
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
More persecution than prosecution
Second Mormon polygamist found guilty of child sex assault, jury doesn't buy defense claim of religious persecution
Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children
More pro-polygamy affidavits by Mormon fundamentalists filed in Canadian constitutional case set to begin in November
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
Canadian constitutional case on polygamy triggered by Mormon fundamentalists, but will also examine Muslim communities
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