3 Mar 2011

BC government failed to act on evidence of child bride trafficking after 2008 Texas raid on polygamists



Vancouver Sun - Canada February 24, 2011

Fax to social worker about 13-year-old's marriage to Warren Jeffs lost in red tape

Attorney-General learned of 2008 correspondence from Texas authorities a few weeks ago

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun



On Sept. 24, 2008, a government social worker in Creston got a fax outlining how four years earlier a 13-year-old girl from Bountiful had been taken illegally to the United States by her parents and married to Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, who is the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was 48 at the time and a fugitive running from charges related to having had sex with minors.

The fax was sent to Wendy Wiens, team leader for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, from Angie Voss, a child protective services supervisor in Texas, five months after Texas authorities had raided the FLDS's Yearning for Zion ranch and taken into care close to 400 women and children.

But Voss wasn't asking for help. She was providing information and offering to answer any further questions that Wiens might have.

In her fax, Voss quoted from a document labelled the Record of President Warren Jeffs that was seized during the raid.

In it, Jeffs names a man from the FLDS community of Bountiful, B.C., his 13-year-old daughter and his wife.

"I sat down with [redacted] and his wife and his daughter, gave a training on the redemption of Zion in brief, in summary, and this girl was called on a mission; and they received it joyfully. And there [redacted] was sealed to Warren Steed Jeffs for time and eternity."

Attached to the fax was a copy of the marriage record for the unidentified girl and Jeffs dated March 1, 2004.

According to Jeffs' record, both parents attended their child's marriage ceremony, which was performed by Jeffs' brother and the FLDS Patriarch LeRoy S. Jeffs in Colorado City, Ariz., at the home of James Allred. It's not clear what, if anything, Wiens did with that information.

But what is certain is that Wiens, the ministry and then minister Tom Christensen must have known about allegations of child sexual abuse in Bountiful, Jeffs, the FLDS and even the Texas raid, which had been widely reported on.

In 2004, RCMP began an investigation that wasn't completed for several years. Jeffs had been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list before being arrested in 2006 and swiftly convicted in Utah of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

If Wiens did pass the information on to others in her ministry, it apparently never made it to the attorney-general's office even though in early September 2008, RCMP had been asked to reopen its investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse and polygamy in Bountiful.

The request came from special prosecutor Terry Robertson -the third outside lawyer hired to determine whether charges ought to be laid.

The fax only came to the attention of lawyers in the attorney-general's ministry a few weeks ago and only after they had received more information from Texas and the seized Record of President Warren Jeffs. This time, the information involved two 12-year-old Bountiful girls who were taken by their parents in 2005 to marry Jeffs in the United States.

Last week, the attorney-general's lawyers applied in B.C. Supreme Court to have the information about all three child brides included as evidence in the constitutional reference case to determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law even though the evidentiary portion of the hearing has concluded. Chief Justice Robert Bauman will hear the application on Friday.

Bizarrely, there might not have even been a constitutional reference case had the attorney-general's ministry been given a copy of the fax in September 2008.

Instead of Winston Blackmore and James Oler -two of Bountiful's leaders -being charged in January 2009 with one count each of polygamy, it might have been other parents charged with different crimes.

The charges against Blackmore and Oler were stayed in mid-2009 after a B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled that Robertson had been improperly appointed and that the government's only options were to do nothing or follow the recommendation of Richard Peck, the first special prosecutor, who advised a constitutional reference case.

The reason? Robertson had no new information to work with. But there was new information. It just didn't make it through the labyrinth of government.

Why it didn't is a question that demands an answer. Not only does nothing appear to have been done to secure the safety of a child -no one seems to know what became of the then-13-year-old -but because you can't help wonder whether this massively expensive constitutional reference case could have been avoided and polygamy's real harms addressed head-on in a criminal case.

Because regardless of what the chief justice decides, it may still come to that.

Attorney-General Barry Penner has already referred all of this new information and once again the RCMP is investigating.

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