REGINA (CP) – The possibility of Saskatchewan becoming a second Canadian stronghold for a fundamentalist Mormon splinter group that practices polygamy isn’t something government officials here are about to welcome with open arms.
“Polygamy is against the law in Canada and perhaps more importantly, there are laws against the sexual exploitation of children and minors,” Frank Quennell, Saskatchewan’s attorney general and minister of Justice, said Monday.
“Those laws will be enforced in Saskatchewan and we certainly don’t have the welcome mat out for anybody who would break them,” he added.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is led by fugitive Warren Jeffs and teaches polygamy as its central tenet. It is based in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., where about 10,000 church members live.
Jeffs is wanted on a U.S. federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution after allegations he arranged a plural marriage between a 16-year-old girl and an older man.
Last week Bruce Wisan, a spokesman for the church, said Jeffs may be creating a new colony in Saskatchewan and that as many as 40 per cent of the church members may be moving to “a very remote, pristine area to start over again.”
Church members would move to the new communities by invitation only.
“It’s the very righteous, the cream of the crop,” Wisan said.
Followers of the same religion started a community in Bountiful, B.C., in the late 1940s where polygamy has been practised openly for decades.
The B.C. government announced in the summer of 2004 that RCMP would investigate allegations of child abuse, forcible marriage and sexual exploitation in Bountiful. No charges have been laid.
A reluctance of witnesses to come forward and co-operate in the investigation has made cracking the case difficult.
The Saskatchewan justice minister acknowledged it might be difficult to prosecute for polygamy but that wouldn’t be the case with the sexual exploitation of young women.
“The laws against sexual exploitation of children are ones we take very seriously in Saskatchewan and what’s being suggested is not welcome here,” Quennell said.
Don Morgan, the justice critic for the Opposition Saskatchewan Party, had a message for the church and its fugitive leader.
“He might be well advised to shop around elsewhere. There might be other jurisdictions that might be more receptive to that lifestyle,” said Don Morgan.
Morgan suggested there’s likely one key reason the polygamists are considering Saskatchewan instead of other areas across the country.
“We’ve got lots of affordable farmland in this province right now and they may have looked at that as being an economic opportunity because of depressed prices.”
Utah officials are also looking for Jeffs so they can serve him papers related to lawsuits filed against him. The church has been under close scrutiny amid allegations of welfare fraud, sexual abuse and forced marriages.