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Ban on polygamy upheld in Canada; investigations under way

Associated Press
New evidence in Canada point to polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs, seen here arriving at a courthouse escorted by a law enforcement officer in San Angelo, Texas, earlier this year. Jeffs was convicted in August and sentenced to life.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has ruled that the ban on religious sects having polygamous marriages will stand because the harm inflicted outweighs religious freedom.

In a 335-page decision, Chief Justice Robert Bauman wrote that the ban on polygamy violates Canada’s Charter of Rights of Freedoms but is constitutional because the practice causes harm to women and children.

The case started when the British Columbia Attorney General asked the court to decide the issue, based on the failed prosecution of polygamy of two fundamentalist Mormon preachers from the town of Bountiful, in the southeast corner of the province.

The ruling also affects other religious groups, such as some Muslim sects, that believe in plural marriages.

Not a religious matter

University of British Columbia Law Professor Margot Young says the ruling centers not on religious grounds, but on the harm polygamy is proven to cause.

“Much of the judgment is spent detailing the ways in which polygamy is harmful, to women – to women’s equality, to women’s mental and physical health, how it victimizes children, both boys and girls, and how it lays down general messaging that’s detrimental to society about gender stereotypes and those sort of things,” Young said.

Those advocating that polygamy is a constitutional religious right and the government should not interfere in their private lives have thirty days to appeal the decision.

New criminal investigation

Evidence introduced during the court proceedings, which started last November, have initiated a new criminal investigation. 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are looking into evidence introduced during the court proceedings that point to underage girls being moved from Canada to the United States to marry older men, including fundamentalist Mormon preacher Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted in August of child sexual assault.