Canada Judge to Rule on Constitutionality of Country’s Polygamy Law

A judge’s decision Wednesday could challenge Canada’s ban on polygamy.

In the prosecution of a
small, polygamous community in British Columbia, Robert Bauman, chief
justice of the province’s supreme court, will rule on whether the
current criminal ban violates religious freedoms set out in Canada’s
bill of rights and therefore is unconstitutional.

he rules for the defendants, Parliament might have to eventually decide
whether Canada repeals the ban and becomes the only Western country to
legalize polygamy.

But the ruling Conservative
Party has a majority in Parliament and is thought likely to block any
legalization of plural marriage.

Pongracic-Speier, lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties
Association, stressed Bauman’s decision is only an opinion and could be
appealed up to the Supreme Court by any participant.

“This is not a process in which that provision is struck down,” she said.

Parliament could repeal the law, change it or decide not to enforce it, she said.

constitutional reference arose after another judge threw out polygamy
charges against British Columbians Winston Blackmore and James Oler in
September 2009.

The men are rival bishops of
the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in
Bountiful, a polygamous community of about 1,000 residents who have
been investigated repeatedly during the past two decades but avoided
prosecution until they were charged with polygamy in January 2009.

Blackmore was accused of having at least 19 wives, and Oler at least 3.

members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to
the early theology of the Mormon church. The mainstream church renounced
polygamy in 1890, but several fundamentalist groups seceded in order to
continue the practice.

Blackmore has long claimed religious persecution and denial of a constitutional right to religious freedom.

to The Associated Press, he said: “Our faith and religion is just as
important to us as anyone else’s is to them. Historically for our kind
of people, persecution has refocused our determination to keep the

Audrey Vance of Altering Destiny
Through Education lives near Bountiful and has supported many of the
women and children. She said upholding the law is meant to safeguard
equality for women and prevent the abuse of children.

She wants to see the law used against the men.

can’t prosecute all of them; there’s too many,” Vance said. “I’d like
to see them prosecute the leaders … I don’t want to see the women

When the case against Blackmore
and Oler fell apart in 2009, the province’s new attorney general asked
the court to examine the law so that the justice system could have
clarity about whether Canada’s law barring multiple marriages is
constitutional. In dismissing the original case against Blackmore and
Oler, Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein said the province’s attorney general
had gone “prosecutor-shopping” in order to charge the two men after
previous prosecutors recommended not charging them.

and federal government lawyers argued before Bauman that polygamy is
inherently harmful, leading to physical and sexual abuse, teenage
brides, human trafficking and other crimes. These outweigh any claim to
religious freedom, the governments say.

Kieran Bridge, who represents the group Stop Polygamy in Canada, said
if the criminal law is upheld the next step is prosecutions.

think removing the uncertainty about the validity or invalidity of the
law will go a long way towards removing any roadblocks to prosecutions.
That was the biggest hurdle,” Bridge said.

But Pongracic-Speier didn’t expect criminal prosecutions to begin immediately if the ban was upheld.

the court case that ended in April, Lawyers for Bountiful residents and
civil liberties advocates argued the law violates the religious
guarantees in Canada’s constitution, and rejected the argument that
polygamy is inherently bad.

The case included testimony from academic experts, former polygamist women and current plural wives for polygamy.

Source: Jeremy Hainsworth, The Associated Press