Data supports hard truth about brides in Bountiful

Why isn’t this information being used now to prosecute the men who sexually exploited and impregnated children?
By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver SunJanuary 25, 2011
It is no secret that there are child brides and teen mothers in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., and that many of them are illegal immigrants from the United States.

Now, there are hard numbers to support the anecdotal evidence.

The numbers come from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency and were filed as an affidavit last week in B.C. Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Robert Bauman is hearing a constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada’s polygamy law is valid.

Some of the statistics are surprising; others a bit shocking.

They comprise data from 1986 to 2009 — beginning in 1986 to mirror some of the information previously presented in an affidavit by Perry Kendall, B.C.’s chief medical health officer, and ending in 2009 because the 2010 information was not complete.

The number of births alone is surprising — 833 born to 215 mothers in 13 years in a community whose population is commonly estimated at around 1,000.

And that number may still be low, since the agency only counted births associated with the 14 most common surnames in Bountiful. Not counted were babies with 11 other surnames listed on the registries of Bountiful’s two elementary schools.

The most disturbing fact is that 85 mothers — a third of the total — were 18 or younger. That’s seven times the provincial rate of teen moms.

Two of the teens had three children each by the time they were 18; 16 had two children each. That means one in 10 babies was born to a teenager. That’s a rate more than double the local average and nearly four times the provincial average of 2.7 per cent.

And it’s no secret that in Bountiful (as in most polygamous societies), the powerful older men have the most wives and the most children. The statistics support that.

The age gap between the 215 mothers and the 142 fathers is slightly more than eight years. That’s nearly double the regional average and an anomaly in B.C., where the average is 4.6 years.

(Even though the legal age of sexual consent was raised to 16 from 14 in 2008, it bears noting that it’s a criminal offence for someone in a position of trust or authority to have sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18.)

Of the fathers, 32 had only one child. But one — Winston Blackmore — had 107.

Blackmore, now 54, is spiritual leader to about half the community. His former wife, Ruth Lane, testified that by spring 2010 Blackmore had 136 children and that several of his wives were under 18.

(In 2009, Blackmore and FLDS bishop James Oler were charged with one count each of polygamy. Those charges were stayed.)

It also bears noting that the legal age of marriage in B.C. is 18. Not that it matters. As Chief Justice Robert Bauman has repeatedly been told, most fundamentalist Mormon marriages are “spiritual” or “celestial” unions arranged by the prophet or his designate.

As Bauman has also heard, women and girls are routinely moved between the fundamentalist Mormon communities for arranged marriages.

The birth statistics bear that out — 45 per cent of Bountiful’s mothers are foreign-born, compared with 29.3 per cent in the rest of Canada and only 11 per cent in nearby Creston and Cranbrook.

Sixty per cent of all Bountiful’s foreign-born mothers and 87 per cent of the teen mothers are from Hildale, Utah. It’s the largest community controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has an estimated 10,000 members and is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon church.

One in seven of the American-born mothers lived in the United States, with all but a few just across the border in Porthill, Idaho, or less than an hour away in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

The data is interesting even though it’s only tangentially related to the issue of polygamy. And it would be very interesting to know whether the other American-born mothers in Canada are here legally, especially since three of Blackmore’s wives were deported in 2005.

Of course, that’s a question the B.C. statistical agency wouldn’t be able to answer.

But there are two others that beg for an answer from somebody in the provincial government.

Did nobody think to ask for all of this birth data sooner?

And, more importantly, why isn’t this information being used now to prosecute the men who sexually exploited and impregnated children?

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


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