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 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 law — instructed 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.
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.