Canadian police renews polygamy investigation into Bountiful

Polygamous marriages in the religious commune of Bountiful, B.C. are once again under the scrutiny of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), following two decades of similar investigations that have so far failed to lead to a single conviction.

The Canadian Press reports

The Mounties have investigated plural marriages in Bountiful since the early 1990s, but persistent questions about the constitutionality of the law and a successful legal challenge three years ago have meant only two people have ever been charged and no one has been convicted.

The RCMP launched an investigation last year focusing on allegations that dozens of teen brides were spirited across the U.S. border to marry older men, but officers weren’t actively considering charges of polygamy because of an ongoing constitutional reference case examining the law.

That changed this week after the province’s attorney-general – buoyed by a court ruling last November that upheld the lawinstructed a special prosecutor to consider polygamy charges.

“There’s a renewed focus on it now,” RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said Friday.

“The special prosecutor is in possession of some of our previous findings, and if we uncover further information that shows what we believe to be elements of this offence [of polygamy], we would forward that, as well.”

Bountiful is the Canadian branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) — the polygamous sect of Mormonism whose leader, Warren Jeffs, was jailed for life last year for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”

Last week Wendell Loy Nielsen, former president of the FLDS’ legal entity, was convicted of bigamy. During the punishment phase of the trial more evidence turned up of his involvement in abetting illegal marriages.

The San Angelo Standard-Times reported

By Wednesday afternoon, jurors had been told about 30 bigamous wives Nielsen is alleged to have had in addition to the three he was convicted of having. The jury was shown a document listing 326 other marriages with which Nielsen was connected either by officiating or being a witness. Most of them were bigamous and 50 of which involved girls 12 to 18 years old, performed in locations from Texas to Canada.

Special prosecutor gets go-ahead to weigh Bountiful, B.C. polygamy charges

Religion News Blog — A special prosecutor looking into potential crimes linked to the community of Bountiful, British Columbia, now has the mandate to weigh polygamy charges after the Canadian province decided a recent court ruling is strong enough to make them stick.

Bountiful is the Canadian branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) — the polygamous sect of Mormonism whose leader, Warren Jeffs, was jailed for life last year for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”

Last November Supreme Court of B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman in a landmark decision ruled that Canada’s ban of polygamy does not violate the country’s Charter of Rights. The ruling cites harms to women, children and society that result from the practice.

The Globe and Mail reports

“I asked our team to take a very thorough look at the ruling – because we wanted to make sure we felt we had enough strength in that ruling to proceed with potential polygamy charges,” Attorney General Shirley Bond said on Monday in Victoria.

“I’m very pleased to say today that our team believes that in and of itself the ruling was strong enough that we can move forward potentially with polygamy charges.”

In January Vancouver lawyer Peter Wilson was named as the new special prosecutor to look into potential criminal offences in Bountiful.

The Globe and Mail notes that

At the time he was appointed, Mr. Wilson’s mandate did not include polygamy, but focused on potential offences against minors, including sexual assault, sexual interference, and parents or guardians procuring sexual activity.

Details about activity involving minors – including young girls from Bountiful being whisked across the border to the United States to marry much older men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, now jailed for sex crimes – were discussed last year in the case that led to the ruling.

Successive B.C. governments have weighed polygamy prosecutions for decades, but charges didn’t proceed, largely over concerns that they would not stand up to a constitutional challenge.

In November, 2011, Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force visited Texas to gather information about underage Canadian girls believed to have been victimized by Warren Jeffs.

Since the end of January Bountiful sect leader Winston Blackmore has been in Canada’s Federal Court, fighting the taxman who says he owes as much as $4.3 million in unpaid personal income taxes, business income and GST.

Winston Blackmore describes living arrangements with his 21 wives

Winston Blackmore Polygamous sect leader Winston Blackmore claims he is minister to approximately 400 followers in Bountiful and that they constitute a congregation, which should provide them an enormous break on taxes.

The Government of Canada is seeking to prove that he repeatedly understated his income on tax returns, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars being owed to the government [Read more...]