There’s a rising chorus of concern in Canada over a thriving polygamist community.
Robert Fowler/Creston, BC, Canada: “I’ve seen quite a few young girls that are married, and have kids, that have got to be– I’m guessing 13, 14. Not very old.”
And there are allegations underage brides are being smuggled across the border from a related community on the Utah- Arizona border.
Teenage brides, sexual abuse, religious fanaticism. It sounds like Colorado City. But the same issues swirl around a related community just north of Idaho, in British Columbia.
Bountiful, British Columbia is in a breathtaking setting at the foot of the majestic Canadian Rockies. The people are secretive.
Two residents who asked us to leave a private road say they just want to be left alone to practice their religion.
Duane Palmer/ Bountiful resident: “Well our fundamental beliefs are following after the teachings of Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon. That’s what’s important to us.”
In the nearby town of Creston, British Columbia, there’s growing agitation. These women organized a reform group.
Linda Price/ Creston Resident: “Yes, it really shocks me that the young girls are married so young.”
Bountiful residents deny underage girls are taken as brides.
Duane Palmer/Bountiful resident: “Nope, as far as I know the youngest has been 15.”
But a Creston shopkeeper says his wife, in her business dealings, has examined documents of extraordinarily young Bountiful mothers.
Jim Steene/ Creston Shopkeeper: “Yes, they are 13, 14, 15 years old, according to their birth certificate.”
Robert Fowler/ Creston Resident: “I think it’s wrong because I’d go to jail if I dated a girl that young.”
Polygamists moved into the Creston Valley almost 60 years ago. They practice farming and a fundamentalist brand of 19th century Mormonism.
Historically, the town’s allegiance has been to the Fundamentalist LDS church in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
The bishop of Bountiful for many years was Winston Blackmore, said to have more than 26 wives, seen here in a 1993 clip from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Winston Blackmore/ Bishop of Bountiful, 1993: “The negative focus on our religion as a felony is disgusting.”
Much of the outcry has been generated by his sister-in-law, Debbie Palmer, a former polygamist wife who ran away in 1988.
Debbie Palmer/ Former Bountiful Resident: “You don’t have other communities where men can go with impunity and be teachers in schools, be principals for the schools, be elders in the community, be superintendent of the school, and have them impregnating young girls and get away with it.”
Allegations persist that young girls are smuggled across the border from Utah to Canada, or vice versa.
Linda Price/Creston, BC: “They’re smart enough to realize that interbreeding isn’t a good idea. So they have the gene pool. They move them back and forth between the two.”
A U.S. guard at the border told us they frequently see cars with Utah plates carrying young brides. Younger than usual, he says, for either Utah or Canada.
Bountiful residents acknowledge teenage girls move back and forth, but all in the open and legal.
Joseph Blackmore/ Winston’s Brother: “In this day and age do you really think people can smuggle back and forth across the border? I don’t think so.”
Canada’s legal age for marriage is generally 16 with parental consent. But polygamists rarely go through the formality of a civil marriage.
Former member Jane Blackmore once told Canadian Broadcasting of brides as young as 14, but recently said she’s unaware of any.
Jane Blackmore/ Former Bountiful Resident: “Just a couple of 15 year olds. Lots of 16 year olds. And most of the young girls have babies before they’re 18.”
Activists are frustrated the Canadian government has been slow to investigate. Canada has strong guarantees of religious freedom, just as we do. That complicates any effort to get to the bottom of it, on either side of the border.