Liberties watchdog wants Canada to drop polygamy charges against sect leaders

Drop polygamy charges: liberties watchdog

VANCOUVER — A civil liberties watchdog group is calling on the Crown to immediately drop polygamy charges against the leaders of a controversial B.C. religious sect.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful, B.C., were charged last month with practising polygamy.

Blackmore, 52, is accused of having 19 wives and 44-year-old Oler, three.

But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said Monday that the 1892 law that the two men have been charged under violates religious freedom.

“The Criminal Code provides adequate provisions for protecting vulnerable women and children without invoking section 293,” the group said in a statement.

“We should not… stand by quietly while the anti-polygamy law is used in a selective fashion to intrude on religious freedom and/or on responsible adults who make relationship choices that alarm or puzzle other Canadians.”

The association called the law barring multiple marriages “archaic and over-vague,” and said the prosecutions were “ill-advised.”

“The provisions are drafted very broadly. Their original intent was to keep Mormons out of Canada,” association policy director Micheal Vonn said in an interview.

“They have the potential to be used again in a discriminatory fashion.”

The association said it has long been concerned about allegations of child abuse by the sect, a breakaway of the mainstream Mormon church which abandoned polygamy more than a century ago. The group urged police to lay appropriate charges if there is any evidence of abuse.

Special prosecutor Terry Robertson did not return a call seeking comment.

The association is urging that the constitutionality of the anti-polygamy law be tested by a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada —a recommendation made in earlier legal opinions prepared for the B.C. attorney general.

– Source: Drop polygamy charges: liberties watchdog, Sunny Dhillon, The Canadian Press via the Winnipeg Sun, Feb. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday February 17, 2009.
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