Canada's law against polygamy should be upheld to protect society from ill effects that include the expulsion of young men from polygamous communities, a lawyer representing the federal government said in her opening statements.
Such expulsions can be a potentially destabilizing element to society and comes along with other harms associated with polygamy, such as teen pregnancies and early sexualizing of girls.
"Polygamy leaves some young men with no opportunities to marry or create a family," Deborah Strachan, representing the Attorney-General of Canada, said Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court. "There is a cohort of boys and young men who find themselves rejected in one way or another from the community."
In the landmark reference case, the attorneys-general of British Columbia and Canada are arguing that Canada's law against polygamy - Section 293 of the Criminal Code - should be upheld. A court-appointed amicus will argue that the law contravenes Canada's Charter of the Rights and Freedom and should be struck down.
The case also features about a dozen interested parties, including groups that want to see the law upheld and others that say it is an attack on religious freedoms or overbroad and must be struck down.
Both the province and Canada maintain that polygamy results in a host of societal harms. If the court accepts that harms - including child abuse, trafficking and the expulsion of men and boys from polygamous families and communities - result from polygamy, then polygamy should remain a criminal offence, Craig Jones, lawyer for the B.C. Attorney-General, maintained.
"It's no answer to say that you already have laws against those things, unless you can say that every such crime is reported, investigated and prosecuted," he said Tuesday.
The case has attracted a large group of spectators, including sisters Rena Mackert and Kathleen Mackert, who grew up in an Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community in the United States.
They have both left the community and now live in Washington State, where they have run a group that tries to help women who are affected by domestic violence or polygamy.
Outside court Tuesday, the women said their father had four wives and 31 children and appeared in a sympathetic magazine profile in the 1950s in the United States.
The story glossed over the reality of their family life, which included young women being married off to much older men, Kathleen Mackert said.
"We were used to whitewash it," Ms. Mackert said. "He was the polygamy poster boy."
Court-appointed amicus George Macintosh is expected to make his opening statements on Wednesday.
In his opening statement, previously filed with the court, Mr. Macintosh says the law contravenes the Charter.
"The 1890 Act was passed with the plain intention of prohibiting a practice central to the Mormon faith and of buttressing and defending a mainstream Christian view of marriage," the opening statement says. "The criminal ban on polygamy was further used as part of Canada's colonial campaign against Aboriginal cultures, specifically by seeking to force them to discontinue traditional marriage practices and take up Christian marriage."
Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler were charged with one count each of polygamy in 2009 but those charges were stayed after a B.C. Supreme Court judge found the province had acted unlawfully in appointing the special prosecutor who approved the charges.
Before that, the last prosecution for polygamy was in 1937, according to documents filed by Mr. Macintosh. The two people accused in that case were acquitted.