Vancouver lawyer Peter Wilson has been named as the new special prosecutor to look into potential criminal offences in Bountiful.
B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch announced Mr. Wilson’s appointment Wednesday.
Bountiful, in southeastern B.C., is home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a breakaway Mormon sect that holds polygamy as a tenet of its faith. Police have looked into allegations of criminal activity in the community several times over the past two decades but potential polygamy charges have foundered on questions of whether such charges would stand up to a constitutional challenge.
Mr. Wilson’s mandate does not include polygamy charges. Rather, he will be considering potential offences relating to sexual offences against minors, including sexual assault, sexual interference and parents or guardians procuring sexual activity.
Details about activity involving minors – including young girls from Bountiful being whisked across the border to the United States to marry much older men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, now jailed for sex crimes – were discussed last year in a B.C. Supreme Court reference on polygamy. In that proceeding, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman ruled that Canada’s ban against polygamy should be upheld.
The RCMP is investigating allegations involving under-aged girls and sent investigators to Texas, where an FLDS compound was raided in 2008, in December. The RCMP investigation is ongoing.
Mr. Wilson was appointed after Richard Peck – a Vancouver lawyer who’d been assigned to that role in 2007 – recently declined to stay on in the role. Mr. Peck in 2007 recommended a court reference to determine the constitutionality of Canada’s polygamy law.
The province named two other special prosecutors in Mr. Peck’s wake and in 2009, Bountiful leaders James Oler and Winston Blackmore were each charged with one count of polygamy. Those charges were stayed in 2009 after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that Mr. Peck’s decision was final. B.C. then pursued a reference in the Supreme Court of B.C.