The women of the FLDS sect in Bountiful, British Columbia, have become the face of polygamy for most Canadians, the Canadian Press says.
But they are not the only ones watching for the outcome of the landmark court case challenging Canada’s polygamy law.
Leaders in the country’s Muslim community say the decision will have wide implications.
Aly Hindi, an outspoken imam at Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Scarborough, Ont., said there are more than 200 polygamous Muslim marriages in the Greater Toronto Area alone. The figure is impossible to verify as polygamy among Muslim and other immigrant groups in Canada is often shrouded in mystery.
Hindi believes banning polygamy is harmful to women.
“If the three adults — the husband, the first wife and (the other) women — have consent, I don’t think the government should interfere in this,” Hindi said in a telephone interview.
By disallowing polygamy, the government is encouraging affairs, he told The Canadian Press.
“This is unjust law drawn by men who do not want to carry responsibility for the second woman,” Hindi said.
Canada’s constitutional reference case comes with high stakes.
At the start of the trial Daphne Bramham explained:
Canada is either on the cusp of legalizing polygamy or strengthening the 120-year prohibition against multiple marriage. […]
If Chief Justice Robert Bauman agrees with the legalizers, Canada would be the first country in the developed world to lift the prohibition on multiple marriage and it would be swimming against a tide of criminalization in developing countries in Africa and Asia.
And it’s fair to say that it would likely be interpreted as Canada throwing down the welcome mat to fundamentalist Mormons, who have been largely rooted out of Utah and Arizona and are under attack in Texas, as well as to Muslims, Wiccans and to secular polyamorists.
Of course, Bauman’s decision is unlikely to be the last word. Regardless of what he decides, his ruling will likely go to the B.C. Court of Appeal en route to the Supreme Court of Canada. And even if Canada’s highest court strikes down Section 293 of the Criminal Code, Parliament would still have an opportunity to remedy that, if it wished.
Canada has long taken a cautious approach to the polygamous sect of the Mormon church within its borders. When it finally did charge two of the cult’s leaders, Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler, the case against them was thrown out after the judge found that B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal was “shopping” for a special prosecutor to charge the two after receiving previous legal opinions against laying charges. Says the Canadian Press:
When Oppal lost his seat in the provincial election, his successor, Mike de Jong, did not appeal the decision but chose to ask the court to examine whether Canada’s current laws against polygamy violate religious freedoms guaranteed in the charter.
The case focusing on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, started in November and is expected to continue into the spring.
As Bramham writes,
The genesis of this case is long-standing allegations of child brides, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, abuse of public funds and human trafficking in the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C.
Indeed, last Saturday it was reported that the B.C. government has applied to re-open the polygamy trial to present new evidence that parents in Bountiful smuggled young girls across the border to marry controversial fundamentalist leader Warren Jeffs.
As for the Muslims, the Canadian Press says
Advocates say polygamy is justified in the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad himself is often cited as an example of being able to marry more than one woman. According to Surat al Nisaa, the “Book of Women” in the Islamic holy book, it is permissible to marry up to four women.
But Muslims are divided on the interpretation of that passage. Tunisia outlawed polygamy in 1956 and Moroccan legislation has made multiple marriages virtually non-existent in the kingdom.