CANADA: British Columbia Supreme Court Weighs Decriminalizing Polygamy
In a trial that is expected to last through January, British Columbia's Supreme Court is hearing the case of a fundamentalist sect of the Mormon Church, who are arguing that laws against polygamy violate Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case involves now-dismissed criminal charges brought against the leaders of a small polygamous community in Bountiful, British Columbia.
Residents of Bountiful practise what Wickett described as a form of "fundamental Mormonism," which includes plural marriage. Although the mainstream Mormon church renounced polygamy more than a century ago, members of the FLDS believe plural marriage is a tenet of the faith. The community in Bountiful has split into two factions and Wickett represents the congregation with ties to the U.S.-based FLDS. About 550 people in Bountiful are part of that faction, and about 55 of them are polygamous, said Wickett. Lawyers for the provincial and federal governments have argued that polygamy has created a long list of problems in Bountiful, including child brides, teenage pregnancy, the trafficking of young girls to meet the demand for wives, the subjugation of women and the expulsion of boys to reduce competition for brides.Christianist websites in the U.S. are following the case closely as they have long contended that same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy.
Wickett said there is very little evidence before the court of any of that happening in Bountiful. Rather, he said, critics with a long-standing bias are relying on the experiences of polygamous communities in the United States. "Members of the FLDS know full well that their beliefs and practices are neither understood … nor accepted by the majority of Canadians," said Wickett. Wickett said if there is abuse within Bountiful — which he suggested is no different than in a monogamous society — the existing law makes it worse because victims would be reluctant to come forward.