Two Religious Leaders Charged with Polygamy in Canada

BlogHer Original Post

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two rival leaders in Bountiful, BC, have been arrested and charged with polygamy. In the same breath that people were reporting the news they were predicting that this case would end up before the Supreme Court. Though charges are rare polygamy is illegal in Canada. Sorta. Kinda. Maybe?

I know what you are thinking - something is either illegal or not. That is usually the case. Polygamy is a currently a legal grey area in Canada - or at least we suspect it is. We don't really know for sure. Sure, it's in our Criminal Code.

293. (1) Every one who
(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or
(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

Evidence in case of polygamy
(2) Where an accused is charged with an offence under this section, no averment or proof of the method by which the alleged relationship was entered into, agreed to or consented to is necessary in the indictment or on the trial of the accused, nor is it necessary on the trial to prove that the persons who are alleged to have entered into the relationship had or intended to have sexual intercourse.

Reading that one does get the impression that polygamy = illegal. But then you need to look at our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am not a lawyer or constitutional expert. I did a quick and basic search on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for references to "religion".

Fundamental Freedoms:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.

Equality rights:
Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

If these two men were saying that they just wanted to have lots of wives that would be one thing. However Bountiful is a settlement of people associated with either the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or an offshoot of that religion. Winston Blackmore was the leader of the community before he had a falling out with Warren Jeffs (yes, that Warren Jeffs). After the falling out he reportedly split with the church and Jeffs appointed James Oler as the community leader but many are allegedly still loyal to Blackmore. And Blackmore has already come out in the press declaring religious persecution.

It's a big grey legal area that is going to be a big legal mess so of course people are blogging about it.

MacLean's blogger Kady O'Malley kept her post short and to the point, but the real discussion is happening in the comments. She also reposted an article on Bountiful that she wrote in 2007 that looks at the lega/constitutional issues involved.

Annette of I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar declared it a good day for women.

I put my faith in Wally Opal, the RCMP and the Crown that they must have sufficient evidence to approve charges and make an arrest. That's my rant anyway. I believe in democracy and I believe in the Charter and justice will prevail.

Iris is wondering why polygamy is illegal between of age and consenting adults.

Certainty wants to know what happens to the boys in these communities.

If you assume the birth ratio of males to females is roughly equal, and if the senior men have several wives (the one man reportedly has 20 wives), then what happens to all the young men who cannot get wives? Afterall, there are only so many women to go around. Do the men leave the community?

It never fails that when the legality of polygamy is brought up comparisons are made to same-sex marriage. This is what Womanist Musing had to say about that.

There is a push behind by the polygamists for acceptance of their behaviour by linking it to the drive to legalize same gender marriage. I find this argument to be completely repellent. In same gender marriage you have two consenting adults agreeing to share their lives together; whereas in the polygamist system that Blackmore and Oler run, young girls are married off without their consent and forced to function as brood mares to these men.

The arrests are just the first step in a long legal fight that will have our laws and our charter face off. Which one will be redefined?

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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