23 Mar 2011

Lawyer fighting Canadian polygamy law says it violates religious freedom, need new law against forced marriage



The Province   -  BC, Canada      March 20, 2011

Prosecute abuse, not polygamy: Lawyer

Child rape and sexual exploitation offences have not been followed up on, court documents claim

By Keith Fraser, The Province



A lawyer appointed to represent parties seeking to scrap the polygamy law has rapped the authorities for failing to prosecute cases of child rape and sexual exploitation.

And George Macintosh suggests in written submissions filed in B.C. Supreme Court that a new criminal law to crack down on forced marriages should be enacted.

In a 304-page submission, Macintosh argues that the polygamy law breaches religious freedoms, is ineffective and should be struck down.

He admits that evidence of "serious abuse" was uncovered at the polygamy trial but says that that has nothing to do with the law itself.

Macintosh argues that the proper response to the abuses is for the authorities to build more bridges to polygamous communities such as Bountiful.

Insularity in the small, rural fundamentalist Mormon community is a problem, and it's exacerbated by the law, he said.

The attorney-general's ministry has had "damning proof" of child rape and sexual exploitation for years and yet no charges have been laid, he said.

"With respect, the failure to prosecute these abuses is wholly unacceptable," says the court document. "When there is such compelling evidence, prosecutions must proceed."

Macintosh, an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, also suggested that the practice of arranged marriages in communities like the FLDS should be criminalized.

"There are stories of girls and boys being woken in the night and married within hours, sometimes to someone they hardly knew, sometimes to someone it appears they did not wish to marry," he said.

"The amicus, not surprisingly, finds this evidence gravely disturbing."

Macintosh said there was no current law in the Criminal Code to address the problem of forced marriages.

But he noted some countries such as Belgium and Norway have passed legislation to deal with the problem.

The submissions came a few weeks after the attorney- general's ministry introduced fresh evidence of child trafficking from Bountiful across the border to the United States. The RCMP is investigating.

In his submissions, Macintosh said that the polygamy law constitutes "grave" violations of freedoms of religion and association.

The "astonishing overbreadth" of the law in criminalizing all polygamous relationships regardless of the circumstances is probably the "starkest example of stereotyping" by any criminal law in Canada, he said.

The issue of whether the polygamy law is constitutional was referred to the B.C. Supreme Court after two leaders in Bountiful had polygamy charges stayed in 2009.

Final, oral arguments in the case are expected to get underway in court on March 28.


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