Few disagree that polygamy can cause harm

But B.C. and Canada disagree on how the law should be interpreted

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun columnist March 31, 2011 7:41 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.

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

After more than two months of hearing evidence on polygamy, there’s no one in the Vancouver courtroom who disagrees that the practice can be harmful.

The most disturbing evidence the B.C. government presented is that as many as 31 under-aged girls — the youngest only 12 and 13 — were trafficked by their fathers and brothers between the fundamentalist Mormon communities in Bountiful, B.C. and the United States.

While he was the bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful, James Oler took two of his under-aged sisters to be married to older men, and he returned to Canada on two separate occasions with under-aged brides. The youngest was 15.

Even FLDS lawyer Robert Wickett acknowledged the possibility in his written argument, calling them “a discredit to those responsible.”

But, he said, “Those harms are not to the discredit of every member of this religious faith and they are not an inevitable consequence of plural marriage.”

Yet beyond general acknowledgment of potential harm, the agreement ends among the 14 parties to the constitutional reference case.

In closing arguments this week in B.C. Supreme Court, the attorneys-general for British Columbia and Canada have argued that because of the harms to individuals and to society, criminalizing polygamy is a justifiable limit on religious freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Their list of harms is long.

Among them are: early sexualization of girls; increased physical and sexual abuse of women and girls; higher infant-mortality rates; shortened female life expectancy; lower educational levels for girls and boys; less equality for women; increased rates of trafficking in women and girls; increased likelihood of arranged or forced marriages; decreased civil and political liberties; and increased crime due to higher numbers of unmarried men.

Both Craig Jones for B.C. and Keith Reimer for Canada argue that what the decriminalizers support — only addressing the harms and not polygamy itself — would not work.

Jones said there’s no reason to believe that the harms would end if polygamy were “brought into the sunlight through decriminalization.

Polygamy needs insularity to hide the abuses that it requires to sustain itself through generations. It requires insularity to shield the methods of control and indoctrination that will guarantee the next generation of willing child brides.”

Both also argued that decriminalization would probably lead to an increase in polygamy and its resulting harms, since Canada would be the only Western country where the practice would be legal.

But B.C. and Canada disagree on how the law should be interpreted.

Reimer said Thursday that all polygamous relationships are potentially harmful and all are criminal, while Jones said multi-partner relationships are only criminal if they have “the trappings of duplicative marriage” — something which “need not be exhaustively defined in advance.”

Following the government’s closing arguments, interested parties that support the continued criminalization began their final submissions.

Cheryl Milne of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights was blunt in her assessment of the B.C. government’s six decades of “acquiescence” regarding Bountiful.

She said it has failed to protect generations of children living there and is in violation of its responsibilities under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

It is “shocking,” Milne said, that the government did not prosecute on the evidence it had in 2008 of child abuse, since there is sufficient public interest in protecting children that charges ought to have been laid even if there was a possibility that prosecutors might not get a conviction.

Additionally, she criticized inspectors for failing to recognize abuse at Bountiful’s government-funded schools and the government’s failure to prosecute people who by law are required to report child abuse.

Even in this case, Milne said, “Excessive deference has been paid to parental religious rights, which have been privileged over children’s rights and the principle of the best interests of the child.”

In his brief closing on behalf of Beyond Borders, which works to end international child sexual exploitation, David Matas boiled the case down to its barest essentials.

Polygamy facilitates the exploitation of children, making it harder to detect and report. That, he said, is justification enough to make the law constitutional, since children have a guaranteed right to security.

“The violation of that right has to weigh more heavily in the balance than the right of freedom of expression or religion of adults manifested by allowing them to live in polygamous communities.”


Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/disagree+that+polygamy+cause+harm/4538957/story.html#ixzz1IFF4ZQPb

  1. It seems like your beefs with polygamists aren’t any different than my beefs with any group of abusers, whether they’re hiding under a monogamous wedding band, vestments, or behind three wives.

    The problem you’ve outlined here isn’t a problem inherent in a certain kind of relationship; it’s a problem caused by abusers in many types of relationships, that exist all over the relationship continuum.

    Keeping polygamy or polyamory illegal isn’t going to stop this abuse any more than banning marriage or Catholicism would stop abuse in those circles, and good and decent polyamorists shouldn’t be judged by the actions of the few who aren’t, just as we don’t blame Catholic parents for the actions of some Catholics, or monogamous parents for the actions of some parents.

    • Since the beginning of The Reference the polyamorists have done their best to hi-jack this blog site. I’ve trashed most of your comments but I’m allowing this one to go up only to show your unwillingness to look at solid research across countries and cultures. I’ll ask you the same question as I did John Ince of the Canadian Polyamory group–what happens when children are introduced to your “love” mix? Who do they bond with? Does someone suddenly become a favourite spouse because they are the parent of the favourite child? Human emotions are going to come into play no matter what the relationship is. Polygamy is a crime! Canada is the only first world nation that has all the legal ammunition it needs to go after this sordid practice and win! The goal of this campaign is to see the practice eradicated in Canada; so the world will know polygamists and their abuses and social ills are not welcome here.

      Nancy Mereska, President
      Stop Polygamy in Canada

  2. All these abuses against children are alleged, but Daphne claims it is only the men who cause this. Where are the mothers of the children? Does anyone believe they are not as guilty for allowing abuse of their children as the men?

    • Bea, You are missing the whole point. Women who have been reared in an insular patriarchal society having had no choice in their education, marriage, or reproductive rights are victims themselves! You must understand the brain washing that goes on from birth in these closed societies; and, even if polygamy is decriminalized, God forbid, the societies will remain so because of the patriarchal grip underwhich they live!

      Nancy Mereska, President
      Stop Polygamy in Canada

  3. Nancy, I do understand that occurs. I think charges should be laid against all persons in “authorized” multiple spousal “marriages” of any form. Then, each individual can defend their “reasons” for entering into polygamous relationship and let the courts decide what to do with them. I do believe they will have leniency on those that have been brainwashed. When these trials are over, ALL women and men who have had to undergo the trauma of court will no doubt let others know this is not the way to go! This method will be the greatest impediment to polygamy in the long run and unfortunately it does need to be done in order to further the stoppage of polygamy.

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