31 Mar 2011

Religious practice not above the law, polygamy consumes its young says Attorney General of BC in closing argument

CBC News   -   March 28, 2011

Polygamy 'consumes its young,' court told

Lawyer for B.C. says in closing argument that anti-polygamy law must be retained

by The Canadian Press

A polygamous religious sect in southeastern B.C. can't hide behind the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to defend a practice that oppresses women, victimizes children and harms society, a lawyer for the provincial government said Monday.

Craig Jones urged a B.C. Supreme Court judge to uphold Canada's 120-year-old law outlawing multiple marriage, arguing that two months of evidence from experts, former polygamists and current plural wives can only lead to one conclusion: polygamy is always harmful and must be stopped.

"This is what we know about polygamy both in theory and practice," said Jones.

"A polygamous society consumes its young. It arms itself with instruments of abuse and shields itself behind institutions of secrecy, insularity and control. It depresses every known indicator of women's equality. It is anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, anti-liberal and antithetical to the proper functioning of any modern, rights-based society."

The government asked the court to examine the constitutionality of the polygamy law after the unsuccessful prosecution of two men from the sect in Bountiful, B.C.

Residents of Bountiful belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect which, unlike the modern-day mainstream church, considers polygamy a sacred religious practice required to reach the highest level of heaven.

The controversy surrounding Bountiful has plagued police and lawmakers for two decades, as they struggled with the uncertainty of the law and whether it violates charter protections of religious freedom.
Underage girls married off, court told

Jones noted the court heard from numerous experts who predicted multiple marriage will always lead to societies that control women, marry off young girls to older husbands and cast off young men. Most of those problems, the experts testified, were rooted in the limited supply of potential wives — even if only a small portion of a society practises polygamy. Testimony from women and children who left polygamous communities, as well as from women currently living in Bountiful, demonstrated all of those academic predictions were true, said Jones.

The court also heard evidence that girls as young as 12 years old were taken to the U.S. to marry much older men, including jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Among the girls from Bountiful allegedly married to American men were two teenaged sisters of James Oler, one of two competing bishops within Bountiful, who were also married to Jeffs. Another was Oler's 15-year-old daughter, who was married to another man the same day Oler himself married a 15-year-old American girl, the government alleges.

Oler, who was among the two men charged in 2009, declined to testify at the constitutional reference case. He insisted in a written affidavit that his community reports any criminal activity to police

Jones said the stories of young girls trafficked across the border and other allegations of abuse are no coincidence.

"The evidence in this case shows that these harms are caused by the practice of polygamy as surely as anything can be said to be caused by anything else," said Jones.

"These victims are inevitable, and there will be many more if the challengers succeed in making Canada the first western nation to decriminalize polygamy."

Two questions

The court was asked to answer two questions: First, is the anti-polygamy law consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Second, if the law is valid, what exactly does it prohibit?

Jones said the law doesn't violate the charter because constitutional protections don't extend to practices that are harmful.

To the second question, he said the law specifically prohibits multiple marriages involving one man and several wives, not the extremely rare practice of women with multiple husbands or same-sex polygamous relationships. On this point, the province disagrees with the federal government, which insists any form of polygamy is illegal.

Some critics of the law have argued polygamous marriages should only be outlawed if they involve abuse, coercion or exploitation. Jones rejected that argument.

"These societal harms are felt regardless of whether any particular polygamous relationship is good or bad," he told the court.

"These [harms such as abuse or exploitation] may be aggravating factors for sentencing purposes. A person who knowingly enters into a polygamous relationship is guilty."

The case will also hear closing arguments from the federal government, a government-appointed lawyer arguing against the law, a lawyer for Bountiful, and several other interveners, including civil liberties groups and women's rights advocates. The final submissions were streamed on the Internet and recorded for TV broadcasts after the judge granted a rare request from the media.

Whatever Justice Robert Bauman eventually decides, it is expected the question will ultimately end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The province referred the issue to the B.C. Supreme Court after the unsuccessful prosecution of Oler and Winston Blackmore, who leads the other faction within the community.

The men were arrested in early 2009 and each charged with practising polygamy. A judge later threw out the charges because of how the province chose its prosecutor, setting the stage for the constitutional reference case.

Blackmore has boycotted the hearings, while Oler's side of the community has a lawyer in court.

Corrections and Clarifications

The Canadian Press initially reported that James Oler had allegedly taken two teenage daughters to the U.S. to marry American men. In fact, the B.C. government alleges one of Oler's daughters, aged 15, and two of Oler's teenaged sisters were married to American men.

This article was found at:

CBC News  -  March 29, 2011

Marriages to Canadian girls recounted in court

by The Canadian Press

In late 2005, the now-jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs called two men in Bountiful, B.C., and told them to bring their 12-year-old daughters to the United States to be wed, according to passages from Jeffs' diaries presented in a B.C. court Tuesday.

Jeffs, who was in his late 40s or early 50s at the time and already married to dozens of women, told the men the girls would become his new wives.

In the diaries, Jeffs describes one of the fathers as "thrilled" with the news and he goes on to describe the marriages themselves, in which he and the girls were "sealed for time and eternity."

"I then called in these two young ladies. I explained to all that these girls were to be sealed to me to protect them at a time when they were able to be sealed and that I had their fathers' permission and the Lord's direction," Jeffs said in the written dictations, portions of which were read in court during closing arguments at a landmark case about Canada's polygamy law.

"We felt a powerful spirit of peace and more especially the second one, the younger one, received the burning witness of burning peace. All present received that peace."

In an unrelated diary entry, Jeffs explained his reasons for marrying children.

"These young girls have been given to me to be taught and trained how to come into the presence of God and help redeem Zion from their youngest years before they go through teenage doubting and fears and boy troubles," wrote Jeffs.

"I will just be their boy troubles and guide them right."

More than two dozen teenagers

Jeffs, 55, is the self-described prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS. He is in a Texas jail awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault and bigamy, related to allegations he had sex with two children, one under 14 and the other under 17. In the diaries, which were seized in a raid by Texas authorities on the FLDS's Yearning for Zion ranch in 2008, Jeffs recounted phoning the fathers of the two 12-year-olds. He told them to bring their daughters to the FLDS cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., which together are known as Short Creek.

Jeffs said God told him how to get the girls into the U.S. undetected, telling the fathers to bring their daughters to an FLDS member's house in the Short Creek area and keep them hidden inside.

He later described a plan to move the girls from Short Creek to the ranch, located near Eldorado, Texas, using a trailer with a bathroom so the girls could stay inside without having to "go to gentile places to use restroom."

The girls were among more than two dozen teenagers from the polygamous community of Bountiful that B.C. government lawyers allege were moved to the U.S. to marry much older men.

Government lawyers are presenting documents seized during the Texas raid as evidence that young girls were trafficking between FLDS communities in Canada and the U.S. to marry — which they say is one of many inevitable abuses that justify keeping polygamy illegal. The B.C. government noted in its closing submissions that it has already submitted evidence 13 girls from Bountiful between the ages of 12 and 18 were married to older American men from 2004 to 2006.

On Tuesday, B.C. government lawyer Leah Greathead said Texas officials had sent information about more than a dozen additional cases, and asked for permission to table the documents as new evidence. The judge will decide later whether to admit the new evidence.

Craig Jones, another government lawyer, told the judge it's impossible that residents of Bountiful weren't aware that girls as young as 12 were being taken to the U.S. to be married off. And no one, he noted, called the police.

"Children are simply disappearing from the community — 12-year-olds girls, 13-year-old girls, 15, 16, 17 — and all this is happening with the regularity that the evidence indicates," he said.

"It's unfathomable to think that this practice was not widely known in the community."
Jeffs awaiting trial

Among the girls from Bountiful allegedly married to American men were two teenaged sisters of James Oler, one of two competing bishops within Bountiful, who were also married to Jeffs. Another was Oler's 15-year-old daughter, who was married to another man the same day Oler himself married a 15-year-old American girl, the government alleges.

The province launched the constitutional reference case after the failed prosecution in 2009 of Bountiful's two leaders. Winston Blackmore and James Oler were each charged with one count of practising polygamy, but those charges were later thrown out.

Jeffs is awaiting trial in Texas and could also face trial in Utah, where prosecutors are considering whether to retry him on charges of rape as an accomplice for his role in the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old follower to her 19-year-old cousin. He was found guilty in 2007, but the state's Supreme Court overturned that conviction last year.

On Monday, a church elder, William E. Jessop, filed papers with the Utah Department of Commerce to take over as president of the FLDS.

Jessop said he wasn't taking over the church, but rather fulfilling of an earlier directive from Jeffs.

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CBC News  -  March 30, 2011

Religion 'magnifies' polygamy's harms: lawyer

by The Canadian Press

Canada's criminal prohibition of polygamy isn't designed to target religion, but the practice does seem to be most harmful when it is connected to a religious belief, a lawyer for the B.C. government said Wednesday during a landmark court case examining the law.

Opponents of the law, including a small religious sect in Bountiful, B.C., argue the ban infringes on their charter right to religious freedom.

Craig Jones said the province accepts that some people, including the self-described fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, practise polygamy because of deeply held religious views. But he said that doesn't mean they should be immune from the law.

"We've seen the extent to which religion is used as the control mechanism, as the enforcement mechanism that magnifies the harms of polygamy," Jones said during his third day of final submissions at the constitutional reference case being heard by the B.C. Supreme Court.

"The evidence that has emerged from expert and lay witnesses alike is that the greater the religious fervour with which polygamy is intertwined, the more harmful it can be expected to be. There is something significantly harmful about the religious manifestation of polygamy."

The court was asked to determine whether the law against polygamy is constitutional following the failed prosecution of two community leaders from Bountiful in 2009.

Residents of Bountiful are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, which, unlike the mainstream Mormon church, still encourages polygamy.

Religious practices not above law

Critics argue the law violates several sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, most notably those dealing with religious freedom and discrimination. They also claim the law is too broad and targets innocent relationships involving more than two people.

The provincial and federal governments insist polygamy is inherently harmful, leading to physical and sexual abuse, teenage brides, human trafficking and other crimes. They also say polygamy affects the broader society, regardless of whether a particular polygamous marriage is good or bad.

Those harms, the governments say, outweigh any claim to religious freedom.

"Religiosity of a practice does not automatically render it immune from prosecution," said Jones.

"There are few crimes that have not, at one time or another, been excused on religious bases, from petty theft to genocide. Clearly, criminal activity such as female-genital mutilation, honour killings, ritual animal sacrifice and cannibalism may be deeply connected with cultural or religious beliefs."

And even without religion, Jones argued, polygamy is still harmful. In any society in which men marry multiple women, the pressures created by the reduced supply of potential wives will cause all of the same problems, he said.

Jones also rejected the argument that the law — rather than polygamy itself — is really what's harming the women and children of Bountiful.

Groups opposing the law have suggested criminalizing polygamy drives it underground, leading to the secretive isolation that has come to define the polygamous community in southeastern B.C. The law puts Bountiful residents under psychological stress, critics have argued, and makes it impossible for them to report crimes and seek outside help.
Prosecutors reluctant

"Decriminalizing polygamy is unlikely to make Bountiful less insular," said Jones.

"It seems fantastic to suggest that these crimes are hidden because polygamy has been driven underground. These crimes are hidden because they are crimes. They flow from polygamy and they need to be kept secret in order for their perpetrators to be able to continue committing them."

Bountiful has been subjected to several RCMP investigations during the past 20 years over allegations including polygamy, child sexual abuse and human trafficking, but prosecutors repeatedly declined to lay charges. That changed in early 2009, when a special prosecutor recommended polygamy charges against the community's two competing bishops, Winston Blackmore and James Oler.

Blackmore was accused of having 19 wives, but the constitutional case has heard he has as many as 25. Oler was accused of having three wives, but the court heard he now has five, allegedly including an American girl he married when she was 15.

A judge later threw out the charges because of how the provincial government chose a special prosecutor, prompting the government to order the ongoing constitutional hearings. The case is expected to eventually end up at the Supreme Court of Canada.

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The Vancouver Sun  -  March 30, 2011

Ban polygamy now, or never: B.C. attorney general laywer

The lead lawyer for the B.C. attorney general closed his arguments Wedneday, and said 'the harms caused by polygamy cannot be easily addressed through the enforcement of child exploitation, sexual assault, procurement or other laws.'

By Daphne Bramham  |  Vancouver Sun

If the prohibition on polygamy cannot be supported by the evidence presented over the past few months in B.C. Supreme Court, it could never be supported.

With that, Craig Jones – the lead lawyer for the B.C. attorney general – ended his closing argument Wednesday in the constitutional reference case to determine whether the polygamy law is valid.

He took three days to review more than two months of evidence, legal precedents and answer the written arguments that the court-appointed amicus George Macintosh will make later in his closing submission.

Jones rejected suggestions by Macintosh and others that the harms of polygamy could be addressed by implementing stricter child-exploitation or trafficking laws or even more vigorous enforcement of the existing laws.

“It is a nice idea that the harms that go hand-in-hand with the practise of polygamy could be addressed if only the practise would be brought into the sunlight through decriminalization,” Jones told Chief Justice Robert Bauman of the B.C. Supreme Court.

“But there is no reason to believe that this would happen. Polygamy needs insularity to hide the abuses that it requires to sustain itself through generations. It requires insularity to shield the methods of of control and indoctrination that will guarantee the next generation of willing child brides.”

He pointed to evidence – some of which has been filed and some which has yet to be filed – of a pattern of criminality by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Church marriage records, birth records and diary entries by FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs indicate that 31 under-aged girls were trafficked between Canada and the United States for arranged marriages with church leaders.

In exchange for their sisters or daughters, some of the men – including James Oler and Winston Blackmore, two former bishops of Bountiful – were given child brides of their own.

Jones said that evidence “demonstrates eloquently why the harms caused by polygamy cannot be easily addressed through the enforcement of child exploitation, sexual assault, procurement or other laws.”

Yet even with that compelling evidence, Jones said, “There remains a question of whether the crimes detailed could ever be prosecuted.

“Without the cooperation of the victim, it is virtually impossible to prove sexual contact as an element of exploitation or assault unless the girl becomes pregnant while still a teen. And, surely, public policy cannot require the government to wait until that point before addressing a serious social harm.”

Criminalizing polygamy is a legitimate limit on religious freedom given the harm it causes women and children, he argued.

Limiting religious freedom with the criminal sanction against polygamy is justified by the harms it causes, he argued.

“It is the religious nature of plural marriage that permits the cradle-to-grave indoctrination of adherents into the acceptance of the practise,” he said. “It is the religious nature that has permitted it to expand so rapidly in Bountiful from a single family in 1947 to about a thousand souls today.

“Most types of polygamy may be, on balance, bad. But religiously mandated polygamy is many times worse.”

Jones finished by quoting Truman Oler, a witness in the case who left Bountiful in his teens after he was denied an education and was sent to work in a post-and-pole mill for wages far below the minimum.

When asked whether he was ever taught about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Oler said he thought it only protected religious freedom.

“The one thing they [church leaders] are trying to do is use that right to protect themselves,” he said. “We never as children knew of charters and rights and freedoms.”

The case continues Thursday with Keith Reimer from making the closing argument on behalf of the attorney general for Canada. He will be followed by interested parties that support the two governments' position that the law ought to be upheld and then by the amicus and interested parties that support decriminalization.

The closing arguments scheduled to be completed by April 15.

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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