Stung by harsh criticism in the past year, the women of a polygamous town in British Columbia opened their doors to TV cameras Tuesday. The women, some of them teen brides, defended their community and say they aren’t being abused.
The community is known as Bountiful, and its leaders are fundamentalist Mormons who broke away from the main church years ago. They moved from Utah to the land near Creston, B.C. more than 60 years ago, and the population is now approximately 1,000.
The men of Bountiful commonly take three or more wives in “celestial unions,” while girls are married and can become pregnant at the age of 14 or 15. The women refer to themselves as “sister wives.”
The women who spoke to the media Tuesday said that they have been upset by the media coverage of their community.
“Polygamy is a team of players that care about each other,” said Nina Oler.
There have been accusations that the people of Bountiful are involved with trafficking girls from the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint community in Utah to become brides in Canada.
Debbie Palmer is a former Bountiful wife speaking out on the situation. “There are underage children who have been put into these marriages and then impregnated by older men,” she told CTV News. ” We’d at least like to see them prosecuted in that kind of situation.”
Bountiful’s leader is Winston Blackmore, who admits to marrying several young women, but won’t reveal exactly how many.
“We’re not bad guys,” he says. “We just want to live normal happy lives just like everybody else. You just get this wild imaginations in your head, which most jealousy is.”
One of his wives, Zelpha, perceives the lifestyle with an attitude not uncommon to the community. “I have lots of companions,” she says. “I have lots of friends, and lots of children. There’s never a dull moment.”
The adults insist that the children are free to leave the community, but most of them can’t imagine ever leaving Bountiful. Those who have left say they are not welcome back.
Linda Price, a Creston resident who has followed events in Bountiful, calls it “Canada’s dirty little secret.”
“If anybody cares about children, they should be concerned about this,” she told CTV Vancouver.
While the children protest this assertion, Price isn’t buying it. “They’re brainwashed,” she says. “They’re going to tell you they’re happy.”
With files from CTV’s Sarah Galashan and CTV-Vancouver’s Tomasia Da Silva