The provincial Liberal government and Opposition New Democrats are saying they want to help women escape Bountiful.
But the newly elected federal Conservatives appear to be adopting a hands-off approach to the community where allegations of child brides, sexual assaults and immigration scams abound.
A spokesman for Kootenay-Columbia Conservative MP Jim Abbott said there is nothing new to say about Bountiful, which is located in his riding.
The spokesman said Abbott, who has held the riding for 13 years, made several statements about Bountiful during the recent election campaign.
“Bountiful jurisdiction is 80 per cent provincial and 20 per cent federal, but `enforcement’ of any law or regulation must be zero per cent political,” Abbott said in a statement published last month in the Creston Valley Advance.
It’s estimated about 1,000 people live in Bountiful, located minutes from the southeastern B.C. community of Creston, near the B.C.-Idaho border.
The residents are members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona.
The church teaches plural marriage is essential if its members are to be glorified in heaven.
In 1947, four families from the church settled near Creston, forming the nucleus of the Bountiful commune.
Local provincial politicians say they’ve been hearing complaints from constituents concerned about the quality of life among Bountiful residents, especially its women and children.
“I think it’s a big concern all around the province if there are young women that are being brought here from United States and being married to older men,” said B.C. Liberal Bill Bennett, whose East Kootenay riding is near but does not include Bountiful.
NDP MLA Corky Evans, whose Nelson-Creston riding includes Bountiful, said he senses a willingness for political adversaries in the Kootenay region to drop their differences in an effort to help people who feel trapped in Bountiful.
“There’s the beginning of a kind of critical mass of interest and also the beginning of discourse between governments, municipal, provincial and federal and between political parties,” said Evans.
“It is a 50 or 60 year issue. It requires that people get along and row in the same direction.”
Evans said he’s had private and public discussions about Bountiful with members of Campbell’s Liberal government, including Bennett, Attorney General Wally Oppal and Education Minister Shirley Bond.
“On the question of Bountiful and polygamy, I think that partisan politics is inappropriate because it’s too complicated and we can’t resolve it unless we work together.,’ he said.
Bennett, a member of Premier Gordon Campbell’s cabinet, has been invited to Bountiful. He said he will accept the invitation but intends to tell women who want to leave that they can get help.
“I think that there are women and children in Bountiful who want to leave,” he said. “There are many women and children in Bountiful who want to stay.
“But for those who want to leave I want to understand what it is that we can do better to help them integrate into the mainstream community.”
Winston Blackmore, one of the spiritual leaders in Bountiful, invited Bennett to visit. Blackmore is reported to have numerous wives and dozens of children.
Oppal met with Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff late last year in Vancouver to share strategies on polygamy.
Shurtleff said his state has done a lot of work to make women in the secretive, closed communities feel safe enough to come forward and give testimony.
Oppal said that’s something B.C. must do, considering allegations that women and children in plural families in Bountiful are being abused.
Canadians view the practice of polygamy in Bountiful as offensive and abhorrent to community values, Oppal said.
Evans said he hoped the fact Bountiful is in a Tory government MP’s riding will increase Ottawa’s interest in what happens there.
Creston Mayor Joe Snopek said welcomes the heightened political interest but said he favours a social services investigation as opposed to a criminal probe.
“Let the doctors and people who are experts at that go in, unannounced, and do a review of what’s happening rather than send in the RCMP,” he said.
Jan. 27, 2006
Dirk Meissner, Canadian Press