Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Forced polygamous relations against Mormon beliefs, court told

Winston Blackmore the religious leader of the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. shares a laugh with six of his daughters and some of his grandchildren, in this April 21, 2008 photo.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

A landmark court proceeding to weigh the constitutionality of Canada's polygamy law resumed Wednesday with testimony from a religious scholar who said fundamentalist Mormon beliefs do not provide for someone to be forced into a polygamous relationship.

"According to doctrine, nobody could be forced," said John Walsh, who describes himself as a specialist and scholar in Mormon studies and appeared as a witness for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon sect that practises polygamy.

"It would be an abuse of power and a deviation from normative standards."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Walsh's statements were challenged by Eva Ross, a lawyer for the Attorney- General of B.C., who cited testimony Mr. Walsh had given in a U.S. court in which he had said that there might be "spiritual consequences" for a girl who objected to an arranged marriage.

Under questioning, Mr. Walsh agreed that FLDS members could be cast out of the community if their behaviour was believed to be disruptive.

"If [behaviour]was not up to community expectation, then they can and sometimes are cast out," Mr. Walsh said.

The exchange was part of a proceeding that began in November and pits the attorneys-general of British Columbia and Canada - who want Canada's polygamy law upheld - against court-appointed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, George Macintosh, who is taking the position that the law contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and should be struck down.

Mr. Justice Robert Bauman, of the B.C. Supreme Court, has heard from expert witnesses on both sides of the issue and this month is expected to hear from FLDS members who will testify about their experience in polygamous communities, families and relationships.

Those witnesses have been granted the right to testify anonymously, based on arguments that they would refuse to testify if they feared prosecution if the law were upheld.

In B.C., governments have for years wrestled with the question of whether and how to prosecute polygamists in the FLDS community of Bountiful.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2009, Bountiful leaders James Oler and Winston Blackmore were each charged with one count of polygamy, but those charges were stayed on legal and technical grounds. Rather than appeal, the province put the question to the B.C. Supreme Court.

The Attorney-General of B.C. maintains polygamy is linked to a raft of harms, including young boys being squeezed out of polygamous communities and girls being married at ever younger ages as men take more wives.

In court Wednesday, Mr. Walsh said FLDS doctrine says nothing about the recommended age of marriage for girls and said that FLDS members he had interviewed and spoken with would be "troubled and astonished" on hearing reports that girls as young as 12 had been married.

Under pressure from U.S. authorities, the mainstream Mormon church officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890.

But the practice continued underground, until church crackdowns in the 1920s and 1930s resulted in polygamous members being excommunicated from the church. Rather than give up polygamy, some members set up new, splinter groups, including the FLDS.

The constitutional reference features about a dozen interested parties, including the FLDS and the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which maintains the criminal restriction against polygamy discriminates against adults in consenting, multi-partner relationships.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.