127 years ago, Canada passed an anti-polygamy statute. Today, for the first time, it will be tested. The nation’s best-known polygamist, Winston Blackmore (27 wives and 145 children), and James Oler (4 wives) go on trial in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
Both are former bishops of a Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their families live in the exquisitely named town of Bountiful, the centre of the sect. (They are estranged and their families do not speak with each other.)
The practice of this banned practice has been no secret in Canada, but the government has always turned a blind eye to it, unless there was clear evidence of child abuse. It was only in the 1990s that police began to look into the community. They eventually recommended that charges be laid, but lawyers for British Columbia refused. They feared that the statute had been invalidated by the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1993, the director of a local mental health centre wrote:
“We . . . do not view this religious community as being bizarre or particularly cult-like, but instead view it as another manifestation of multiculturalism, a different way of expressing spirituality.”
In 2007 the BC attorney-general at the time, Wally Oppal, insisted that charges be laid. But a first, a second and then a third prosecutor all refused, contending that the law was unconstitutional.
This issue was clarified in 2011 when the BC Supreme Court ruled that the harms of polygamy were sufficient to justify a limitation on freedom of religion and freedom of association.
This article continues at [Mercatornet] Canada’s long-awaited polygamy trial begins today