VANCOUVER (CP) – The usually cloistered wives in a B.C. polygamous colony are organizing a public relations campaign to defend their lifestyle as the government prepares to investigate decades old claims of abuse in the community.
Marlene Palmer, 45, is a mother of six children and is married to a man who has taken several wives in the Interior town of Bountiful, B.C. She said Thursday she’s sick of being demonized and so are her intensely private sister wives.
“We’re all going to meet on Saturday to decide what we want to say and write a press release,” she said.
Some women who have fled Bountiful charge that these women are brainwashed, sexually abused, married off as young as 14 and trafficked to communes in the United States.
Rarely do they speak out about their male-dominated society.
“I guess I’m just probably one of the more mouthy ones,” said Palmer, who adheres to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon splinter group.
“I was just so upset about all the untruths that were being spread. No one is forced to be in our community. It’s a free world.”
Palmer said the sooner the government sends in social workers to confirm her claim, the better.
British Columbia’s Attorney General Geoff Plant has said he was responding to public concerns when he announced last month that an investigation would be done. People on both sides of the issue say he is taking too long.
Debbie Palmer, a woman who fled Bountiful in 1988, worries Bountiful girls who have been abused will be moved to colonies in the U.S. before social workers ever start knocking on doors.
Debbie and Marlene Palmer were married to the same man and used to be close friends. Marlene Palmer said she doesn’t understand why Debbie is so critical of her lifestyle, which she claims was very good to her.
“I think the Attorney General’s office had probably better organize themselves and get investigating. I think they might as well. If there was some abuse going on I would want to know about it.
“I’m a very liberated woman. I do what I want and I don’t like any kind of problems happening with children. Children are the innocent, wonderful people in our society.”
Debbie Palmer, 49, who at 15 became the sixth wife of a 55-year-old, said her sister wife Marlene is being controlled by Bountiful’s self-proclaimed bishop, Winston Blackmore.
“She takes brainwashing to a whole other level. She’s been inside that community her entire life.
“She defends her community in a way that is desperate, you hear her ranting and raving about how beautiful it is and that there’s no downside to it. That’s not realistic. She’s desperate to try to preserve her own sanity.”
Debbie Palmer said she is determined to help and protect women like Marlene. She filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Right’s Tribunal alleging that girls in Bountiful aren’t given the same access to education as boys. She claimed they are pulled out of school as early as Grade 7.
She isn’t getting very far though. The tribunal sent her a letter this week asking if she had the permission of the people of Bountiful to complain on their behalf.
Debbie Palmer, who now lives in Saskatchewan, said some women in the community who want out still call her from time to time but probably wouldn’t have the courage to come forward to testify.
Palmer explained that women in Bountiful are raised to believe that if they disobey their husbands they won’t get into heaven.
Police say they are trying decide how to approach the investigation and what kind of task force would be most appropriate.
Debbie Palmer said it is important to bring in cult experts from the United States to understand what is really going on.
However, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has warned that if police try to enforce Canada’s anti-polygamy laws, the group will just go underground and clam up even more.