CBC News - British Columbia - Polygamy law faces test in B.C. Supreme Court


November 22, 2010

Polygamy law faces test in B.C. Supreme Court

By CBC News
CBC News

The constitutional validity of Canada's polygamy law will be tested by the B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, following the province's failed prosecution of two leaders from the religious community of Bountiful last year.

The constitutional validity of Canada's polygamy law will be tested by the B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, following the province's failed prosecution of two leaders from the religious community of Bountiful last year.
The province's attorney general has asked the chief justice to rule on two questions. The first question is whether Canada's law against polygamy violates the religious protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The second question - if the court rules the law is constitutionally valid - is whether all polygamy is illegal, or just unions involving minors or exploitation?

Exploitation at issue

Several interest groups are expected to have legal representatives at the trial.
The West Coast Legal Action Fund's lawyer Janet Winteringham says a law against polygamy is vital to protect vulnerable women and children from exploitation.
"You need to read in an element of exploitation and if you do that, then the section is constitutional," argues Winteringham.
But B.C. Civil Liberties Association lawyer Monique Pongracic-Speier disagrees.
"Consenting adults have the right - the Charter protected right - to form the families that they want to form," she argues.
Pongracic-Speier says the law against polygamy is the wrong way to protect vulnerable women and minors.
"In some polygamous families, as in some monogamous families, there are abuses and there are difficulties, and it's those abuses or those difficulties that ought to be the target of legal intervention, not the form of relationship itself," she says.
The hearings follow the province's unsuccessful attempt to prosecute the two leaders of a small fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler were charged in January 2009 with one count each of practising polygamy, but those charges were later thrown out when a judge ruled the province used an unfair process to find a prosecutor.
If the court strikes down the law, Canada would be the first country in the developed world to decriminalize polygamy.
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CBC News - British Columbia - Polygamy law faces test in B.C. Supreme Court

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