Canada: Polygamous communities persist on grounds of 'religious freedom'

The polygamous communities of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) - a branch of Mormonism - have openly practiced forced and underage marriages, incest, and abuse for decades. Under the clause of 'religious freedoms', however, this practice has been permitted to continue in the Canadian province of British Columbia and lengthy court cases have been further delayed by repeated appointments of special investigators.
Especially in the light of the recent raiding of an FLDS compound in Texas, where polygamous and incestous marriages had been occurring, we feel it is especially important to join our voices in denouncing not only the practice of polygamy but also to reaffirm that human rights must not be over-ridden by arguments of 'religious freedom'.

For background information on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), please see here.

For background information on the campaign against religious arbitration in Canada in 2005, please see the website of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW), here.

1. "Yearning for Zion: What next for the polygamists?", UK Times Online, June 22, 2008: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article4164416.ece

2. "B.C. polygamist leader decries sexual abuse", The Canadian Press, June 7, 2008: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080607.wpoly0607/BNStory/National/home

3. Editorial by Nancy Mereska, Coordinator of the anti-polygamy network in North America

"The On-Going Battle to Stop the Exploitation of Children for Religious Sex in the Mormon Fundamentalist Community of Bountiful, British Columbia"

By: Nancy Mereska

Mormon Religious Law

Section 132 of the Mormon scripture book, Doctrine and Covenants, states that men can take as many virgins as they want and not be considered adulterers. Even though mainstream Mormons denounced polygamy in 1890, they have never rescinded Section 132.

In Fundamental Mormon (FM) sects, “virgins” mean any girl who has reached puberty.

A common joke among Mormon women is they “hold the priesthood by holding their husbands in their arms.”

Canadian Law

Section 153 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it illegal to sexually exploit anyone under 18 by a person in authority over them. Sections 292 and 293 outlaw the practice of performing feigned marriages and polygamy, respectively.

Part 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Part 2 outlines our Fundamental Freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion. Religious law does not supercede legislated law in Canada.

Part 28 of the Charter: “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”

International Law

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Article 16, states:

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations . . .

2. The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect. . .

Jane Blackmore, the first and only legal wife of Bountiful polygamy leader Winston Blackmore told an audience at the International Cultic Studies Conference in Edmonton (2004) that the girls of Bountiful, B.C., a Fundamentalist Mormon (FM) enclave are taken out of school at the age of thirteen. They are married at the age of fourteen and are expected to have a baby a year. Jane Blackmore served as a midwife to these girls and has all the birth records. She said she is willing to submit them as evidence should she ever be subpoenaed to do so.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children also defines a child as every person under the age of 18 (Article 1).

Although every article of this Convention could be used to cite contraventions when it comes to the children of Bountiful, Articles 11 & 19 are of great import to this paper:

Article 11 Illicit Transfer and Non-Return: The State is to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad.

Article 19 Abuse & Neglect: The State is to protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation by parents or others, and to undertake preventive and treatment programs in this regard.

Andrea Moore Emmett in her book God’s Brothel asserts: “Trafficking of girls occurs when they are taken across state lines or into Canada and Mexico. . .” Both Jane Blackmore and Debbie Palmer have described how young Fundamentalist Mormon girls are trafficked across the American border for sexual purposes.

Horrible images of abuse and neglect are portrayed in Debbie Palmer and Dave Perrin’s book Keep Sweet: The Children of Polygamy. Palmer tells how older children were put in sole charge of younger children, of child brides and their traumatic pregnancies, and other descriptions of terrible sexual abuse.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 (3) states: “Everyone has the freedom to practice their religion subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

Canada has ratified all three of the above-named conventions; yet, FM still exploits and harms girls under the age of 18 here; uses young boys as slave labourers; and, “excommunicates” boys and men who are a threat to the older men taking virgins.

In the summer of 2007, B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal appointed special prosecutor Richard Peck, QC. to submit a report and decision on what to do about the reports of child sexual exploitation in Bountiful. Peck recommended that Section 293 of the Criminal Code be tested for its constitutionality in the B.C. Court of Appeal. Apparently unsatisfied, Oppal appointed yet another lawyer, Leonard Doust, QC. to oversee the matter. After the graphic images appeared on news casts of the women and children being evacuated from the FM compound near Eldorado, Texas, Doust announced that he agrees with Richard Peck and Section 293 must be tested in the courts before action can be taken against the polygamists in B.C.

Ten reasons why the B.C. government should take action against Bountiful now

1. Polygamy is illegal in Canada making its practice a crime.

2. Canada has a responsibility to comply with not only its own laws but the international conventions it has ratified.

3. Cross-border trafficking of young Fundamentalist Mormon girls for sexual purposes will continue.

4. Women, girls and boys in Fundamentalist Mormon polygamy are denied even the knowledge of their rights.

5. Children are constantly at risk for all types of abuse.

6. Winston Blackmore, a Fundamentalist Mormon leader in Bountiful has been very open about his polygamy and marrying very young girls.

7. Jane Blackmore has birth records; and, is willing to testify.

8. Debbie Palmer, who escaped from Bountiful in 1988, has published a book on the abuses she suffered both as a child and young woman.

9. Tax funded Fundamentalist Mormon schools that teach racism and that boys hold a higher position in life than girls must be shut down.

10. Other religious sects that practice polygamy will consider Canada a safe haven for their illegal actions.

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