A judge in British Columbia has decided that Canada’s ban of polygamy does not violate the country’s Charter of Rights.
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman issued his decision Wednesday, saying that while the ban does indeed violate the freedom-of-religion rights of those practising polygamy, polygamy brings such harm to women and children that they outweigh those rights.
In his 335-page decision, Bauman said that polygamy fundamentally hurts women, their children, and society in general.
“Women in polygamous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Competition for material and emotional access to a shared husband can lead to fractious co-wife relationships,” he wrote.
“Polygamy has negative impacts on society flowing from the high fertility rates, large family size and poverty associated with the practice. It generates a class of largely poor, unmarried men who are statistically predisposed to violence and other anti-social behaviour,” he added.
Bauman added that the polygamy ban law is only valid if it isn’t used to prosecute child brides.
The decision follows 42-days of legal arguments from a wide variety of groups interested in the constitutionality of Section 293 of the Criminal Code.
The ruling was welcomed by B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond in Victoria, who called the decision a “landmark” ruling that sends a clear message upholding the laws. [...]
Bond said she was very pleased with the result, but would not say if B.C. intended to launch a third attempt to prosecute polygamists in the religious community of Bountiful.
The ruling was also welcomed by Brian Samuels, the lawyer for the group Stop Polygamy in Canada.
“I think it’s a well reasoned and comprehensive decision,” said Samuels.
Likewise, Canada’s polyamorists — people with multiple partners outside a religious context — said they were relieved because Bauman said the law shouldn’t apply to them unless they decide to formalize their unions.
“The formality of marriage is really not a big issue in the polyamorous community,” said John Ince, the spokesman for the Canadian Polyamoury Advocacy Association.
But George MacIntosh, the lawyer appointed by the court to argue against the law, said the decision unfairly criminalizes the actions of consenting adults and he may appeal the decision. [...]
Bauman spent several months hearing testimony and legal arguments about whether the 121-year-old ban on multiple marriages is constitutional.
The landmark hearings, which wrapped up in April, focused on the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., but the ruling is expected to have implications for polygamists in the Muslim community.
The constitutional test case was prompted by the failed prosecution of two men from Bountiful who were charged in 2009 with practising polygamy.
The B.C. government then asked the court to rule whether Canada’s polygamy laws violated the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Residents of Bountiful follow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which, unlike the mainstream Mormon church, holds polygamy as a tenet of the faith.
The court heard evidence that teenage girls in Bountiful were taken across the Canada-U.S. border to be married, prompting RCMP in January to announce a renewed criminal investigation into the community about 1,000 people in southeastern B.C.
The provincial and federal governments have pointed to the inability to lay charges, under the polygamy law or any other, as a reason to uphold the multiple marriage ban.
The polygamy law, the governments said, is the only way to prevent and punish such crimes in a closed religious community that shuns outside scrutiny and where the plural wives themselves are unwilling to co-operate with police.
Challengers argued the Criminal Code covers offences such as sexual exploitation, human trafficking and kidnapping. Polygamy, they claim, isn’t the issue.
B.C. Supreme court reasons for judgement
Timeline of polygamy in Canada
Data supports hard truth about brides in polygamous Bountiful
New evidence about alleged child brides from Bountiful prompts application to re-open polygamy trial
Research resources on Bountiful, B.C.
Research resources on the FLDS
Research resources on polygamy
Polygamous sects of the Mormon Church (includes a chart that shows where the Bountiful communities fit in)