A B.C. Supreme Court judge has upheld Canada’s law against polygamy, finding that the potential harm to women and children in multiple marriages outweighs the infringement of religious freedom.
The ruling clears the way for the B.C. Attorney General’s ministry to try again to prosecute leaders of Bountiful, a polygamous community in southeastern B.C. near the Idaho border.
Charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, rival leaders of the community, were dismissed on a legal technicality by another B.C. judge in 2009. Blackmore was charged with having 19 wives and Oler three wives.
Attorney General Shirley Bond said Wednesday the ministry will take time to study the complex ruling before deciding what to do next. After the prosecution was turned away, the government proceeded with a reference case, to see if the rarely used law conforms with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Our case was in essence quite simple – that there are profound harms to children and women related to polygamy, and today I think that Justice Bauman clearly embraced government’s argument,” Bond said. “My job now is to go back and assess what implications this might have for a future potential prosecution.”
Bond added that with many intervenors in the case, the judgment is likely to be appealed.
Chief Justice Robert Bauman issued a 300-page ruling Wednesday after hearing testimony from expert witnesses as well as people who have lived in Bountiful, an isolated community of about 1,000 people belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Bauman surveyed the history of marriage around the world and found that preserving monogamous marriage “represents a pressing and substantial objective for all of the reasons that have seen the ascendance of monogamous marriage as a norm in the West.” He rejected arguments that there is such a thing as “good polygamy.”
The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints split with the mainstream Mormon church a century ago rather than renounce multiple marriage.
The B.C. community was established in the 1940s, but didn’t come to public attention until the 1980s. Similar communities exist in the U.S., particularly in Utah where the Mormon church was founded.