B.C. teachers blame government for failing Bountiful’s children
By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun columnist
April 1, 2011 8:49 PM

A grade 2 class does reading class at Mormon Hill School at Bountiful, near Creston, B.C. in 2005. The genesis of the B.C. Supreme Court case on polygamy is allegations of child brides and exploitation in Bountiful.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files

VANCOUVER — The B.C. government got another blast Friday for its failure to deal with the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful during the closing arguments in the reference case to determine whether the current law prohibiting polygamy is valid.

Robin Trask, lawyer for the B.C. Teachers Federation, said the government has failed in its duty to ensure that the children in the polygamous community are getting a proper education. She blamed both the Independent School Act and the people who administer it.

On Thursday, Cheryl Milne of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights accused the government of six decades of “acquiescence” when it comes to Bountiful.

She said it has violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by failing to protect them from sexual exploitation, abuse, trafficking and by failing to provide them with the educational opportunities they are entitled to.

Several experts testified during the trial that poor educational outcomes are common in all polygamous communities worldwide, witnesses who remain in Bountiful and who have left the community indicated gaps in what they were taught.

There are two schools in Bountiful that combined received nearly $2 million a year in funding under the government’s Independent School Act. The one school – Bountiful Elementary Secondary School – (BESS) is operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the other is Mormon Hills School, which is operated by another fundamentalist Mormon group led by Winston Blackmore.

In the past 20 years, only 13 students who have ever attended BESS have completed Grade 12 and only seven have received adult graduation diplomas.

Since MHS opened in 2003/04, six students have received Grade 12 certificates and five have received adult graduation diplomas.

Independent schools are required to teach is “critical thinking,” Trask said. Students by the end of Grade 6 are also expected to be able to “assess equality and fairness in Canada with reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms” and “compare individual and collective rights and responsibilities in Canada with those in other countries.”

Additionally, they are supposed to be taught sex education, life skills and given career counselling.

Even though the schools have been inspected more often than other independents, Trask quoted several witnesses who said they were never taught any of that.

Truman Oler said religious instruction took up as much as two hours of every day. All that he was taught about the Charter was that it protected religious freedom. And far from being taught to think critically, Oler remembered being instructed to “obey everything you were told by the prophet or the bishop.”

An FLDS member – who testified anonymously as Witness #3 – said no one at the school seemed surprised when at 17 she was married to a man in his early 40s or that the sister-wife whom she rode the bus with was only 15.

Trask noted that when Edward Vanderboom, the independent school inspector, testified that he was not aware of any inspectors asking about the marital status of any of the students. Asked if it would concern him that a Grade 9 student was married to a man in his 40s, Vanderboom replied that it would “give pause for reflection and we would likely need to consider what actions we would need to take and what further enquiries we would need to engage in.”

She noted that the independent school authorities are required to report suspected abuse.

Witness #3 said sex education was never taught nor were life skills. Although she is taking summer courses at a Utah college, she wasn’t aware until she was told in court that her Grade 12 certificate from BESS would not be accepted by any Canadian university.

In closing, Trask said the BCTF supports the continued criminalization of polygamy.

However, she said, it believes the law should be interpreted so that women and girls are not criminals since they have only married once. It’s only those who take multiple spouses who are criminals.


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