Polygamy ‘consumes its young,’ says Crown in landmark trial


 By Keith Fraser,

The Province

March 7, 2011

A lawyer for the B.C. government says polygamy “consumes its young” and warns that there will be many more victims if the practice of multiple marriages is decriminalized in Canada.

The comments by Craig Jones, lead counsel for the B.C. attorney-general’s ministry, are contained in a 163-page written submission filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

Last month B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman heard the final witnesses in the trial to determine whether Canada’s law is constitutional.

The parties in the case are now in the process of exchanging written submissions to be followed by final oral arguments March 28.

In his submissions, Jones says that the quality of the evidence heard at trial was “extraordinary,” with some of the leading experts testifying in addition to people who have and are still living in polygamous communities in Canada and the United States.

He said the evidence “inexorably” leads to two conclusions — that polygamy has “significant risk” to women and children and significant risks to society at large.

“This is what we know about polgyamy, both in theory and practice: a polgyamous society consumes its young,” he said.

“It arms itself with instruments of abuse, and shields itself behind institutions of secrecy, insularity and control. It depresses every known indicator of women’s equality.”

Jones added that polgyamy is “anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, anti-liberal and anthithetical to the proper functioning of any modern, rights-based society.”

The government lawyer noted that the harms included child brides being smuggled across the border to serve as “compliant wives to middle-aged men they have never met,” and boys expelled or sent to work camps without education.

“These victims were inevitable. And there will be many more if the challengers succeed in making Canada the first western nation to decriminalize polygamy.”

There are two questions before the court — whether the law is constitutional and what are the necessary elements of the offence.

Jones said the law was consistent with the Charter.

Regarding the elements of the offence, he said that the law does not require proof that it involves a minor or that it occurred in a context of dependence, exploitation, abuse of authority, a gross imbalance of power or undue influence.

Those elements may be aggravating factors, but a person who knowingly enters into a criminally polygamous relationship or who assists in “certain processes” purporting to sanction such a relationship, is guilty of the offence, he said.

Jones concluded by noting that for more than 30 years, many academics and lawyers have said, without the benefit of much evidence, that banning polygamy was an unjustifiable infringement of the liberties of citizens.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the world is watching this case. It is by far the most thorough and profound exploration of polgyamy and its harms in any courtroom, ever.

“If the prohibtion against polygamy cannot be supported today, on this record, then it could never be supported.”

Written submissions from the parties who want to decriminalize polygamy are expected to be filed March 17.

The judge was asked to take the constitutional reference case after polygamy charges against two Mormon fundamentalist leaders in Bountiful were stayed in 2009.



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