Utahns testifying in Canada polygamy case


Ben Winslow


February 8, 2011

VANCOUVER, British Columbia

A judge in British Columbia’s Supreme Court is considering whether or not to overturn the country’s ban on polygamy. It’s a controversial case that has a number of Utahns who have traveled across the border to offer testimony.

“I am actually excited that there’s going to be an answer one way or another,” Ruth Lane, an ex-member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said in a videotaped affidavit filed with the B.C. Supreme Court.

The court is considering whether Canada’s anti-polygamy laws violate the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. British Columbia is home to a colony of the Utah-based FLDS Church. Over the past several months, members of Utah’s polygamous groups, activists, scholars and experts have submitted testimony and affidavits both in favor of and against the polygamy ban.

“This is a viable, alternative lifestyle,” fundamentalist and pro-polygamy activist Anne Wilde said on the videotaped podcast “Mormon Stories,” played for the court. “We’re about families.”

Others disagreed.

“The laws of polygamy are nothing but these men wanting control of a group of people,” said Brent Jeffs, an ex-member of the FLDS Church and nephew to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Some offered mixed opinions about the decriminalization of polygamy in Canada.

“If you looked at polygamy just from the place that it’s about consenting adults, and you know, they have a right to live this, I would probably agree,” said Carolyn Jessop, an ex-FLDS member and author, in a videotaped affidavit. “Because if a woman wants to be abused as an adult, she has a right to be abused. OK, I get that. But she doesn’t have the right to put her children in an abusive circumstance.”

Members of the FLDS Church were allowed to submit their affidavits anonymously. In them, they described their lives, happy marriages and denied critics’ allegations of abuse and underage marriages within the church.

“I believe the marriage covenant is a relationship that is sanctioned by our Heavenly Father through divine power and authority,” wrote one identified only as Witness No. 10.

They wrote of the benefits of placement marriage and how much joy they found in their faith, noting that the only abuse they found was from those they encountered on the outside.

“We feel that making our lifestyle and religious practice illegal puts our culture on society’s fringes,” wrote Witness No. 7.

James Oler, a leader in the FLDS Church in Canada, submitted an affidavit acknowledging that he runs the risk of criminal prosecution. He and polygamist leader Winston Blackmore were previously charged by Canadian authorities. The case was tossed, but led to the legal issue being considered by the court.

“I expect that, if S293 of the Criminal Code is eventually held by the courts to be constitutionally valid legislation, the Crown will attempt to resurrect the charges against me,” he wrote. “I am aware that the Crown will not provide me with an immunity from prosecution if I elect to give evidence in the reference.”

The Texas Attorney General’s Office sent the B.C. Supreme Court nearly 800 pages of evidence seized in the 2008 raid on the FLDS Church’s Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado. The photographs, marriage records and religious dictations have become evidence in the criminal cases against a dozen FLDS men — including polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Many Utahns who traveled to Canada to give testimony in the case declined to comment to Fox 13 at the request of lawyers in the case. Utah authorities have been watching the hearing with interest, but are quick to point out that any ruling in Canada has no bearing on U.S. law regarding polygamy.

“I am very grateful that I live at a time when I can live this principle and only hope that I have done it honorably,” Wilde said in her videotaped statement. “I am grateful to be a voice in defense of it.”


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