Armed with a voluminous police report on the matter, special prosecutor Peter Wilson is now looking into laying charges connected to long-standing polygamous practices among residents of the rural B.C. community of Bountiful.
Possible charges being considered by Mr. Wilson include polygamy, sexual assault, sexual interference and parents or guardians procuring sexual activity.
The latter offences stem from allegations that teenage girls from Bountiful were sent across the border to marry older men in the United States. Those said to be involved are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), who consider polygamy a basic foundation of their faith.
RCMP delivered details of their lengthy investigation to Mr. Wilson last week. Police investigators remain on the case, with a view to providing further information on additional offences that may have occurred.
Still, their initial findings were enough for Mr. Wilson to begin assessing what charges should be laid, Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Neil MacKenzie said Wednesday. "I understand it was a substantial amount of material."
Since additional information will be coming from police, it is not possible to provide "a specific timeline" for Mr. Wilson's final decision, Mr. MacKenzie said. "It will likely be a number of months."
The length of time it is taking to complete the latest look into events at Bountiful is no surprise, given the long and winding road legal authorities have already travelled to get to where they are now.
The RCMP has been investigating practitioners of polygamy, off and on, for close to two decades. But authorities have generally shied away from prosecutions, over concern that a charge of polygamy would not survive a religious-freedom challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, in a groundbreaking judgment 20 months ago, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman upheld the criminal prohibition against polygamy, ruling that the practice harms women, children and society. During proceedings on the issue, court heard stories of underage marriages and of young Bountiful girls marrying men in the United States, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, now jailed on sex crimes involving two of his teen brides. Mr. Wilson was appointed as special prosecutor in January, 2012, after polygamy charges failed against Winston Blackmore and James Oler. The two men, religious leaders of rival FLDS sects in Bountiful, were accused of having 19 wives and three wives, respectively. A judge tossed out the charges on the grounds that the Crown had mishandled its prosecution of the case.
Under Mr. Wilson's terms of reference, he is to consider "the possible prosecution of sexual exploitation and other alleged offences against minors by individuals associated with the community of Bountiful, from the early 1980s to the present." Mr. MacKenzie defended the length of the latest police investigation. "It is obviously a complex matter that has focused on Bountiful over a number of years," he said.