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Caution urged in cult case

Calgary Sun, Canada
July 30, 2004
Bill Laye, Calgary Sun • Friday July 30, 2004

Tread carefully or you may be touching off an explosive powderkeg. That’s the advice a B.C. human rights advocate is offering as that province’s attorney general prepares to probe alleged sexual misconduct at an East Kootenay religious commune.

Charges being levelled against leaders of the polygamist settlement of Bountiful — a Mormon breakaway sect located near Creston, about 520 km southwest of Calgary — include child abuse, forcing women into multiple marriages and sexual exploitation.

Sect leader Winston Blackmore said he welcomed the probe, adding his community has nothing to hide.

“People who are observing these kinds of communities from the outside indicate that there is a cult dynamic and it’s unpredictable what the response of these individuals will be,” said John Russell, president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

“In light of that, and in light of the history of places like Waco, you have to be cautious about what the implications of your actions will be,” Russell said.

He was referring to the fiery death of 80 Branch Davidian sect members in April 1993, when their compound exploded after a 51-day standoff with U.S. authorities.

That’s why, although the BCCLA was instrumental in calling for a review of alleged abuse at Bountiful, Russell is urging the government not to browbeat the community’s leaders on the polygamy issue.

But in announcing the probe, B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant hinted last week the Bountiful task force may also look into those practices.

To the BCCLA, that would be a mistake.

“I would not like the specific allegations of wrongdoing to be sidetracked into a debate on whether anti-polygamy laws should be used,” Russell said. “There is no quick-fix here — it’s a long-term project.”

Officials for Plant’s office were unavailable for comment yesterday.

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