Constitutional Debate over Canada's Polygamy Law Heads Back to Court

The Canadian Press, November 6, 2017 | Go to article overview

Constitutional Debate over Canada's Polygamy Law Heads Back to Court


Polygamy law back in spotlight in B.C. court

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CRANBROOK, B.C. - A decades-long constitutional debate over Canada's polygamy law is set to flare up again Tuesday, six years after a British Columbia Supreme Court ruled plural marriage is a crime.

Winston Blackmore of Bountiful, B.C., is expected to argue the law infringes on his freedom of religion and expression. Blackmore married at least 24 women between 1990 and 2014 and was found guilty of one count of polygamy earlier this year.

Blackmore is the leader of a small community in southeast B.C. that follows the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon breakaway sect that condones plural or "celestial" marriage.

The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has renounced any connection to the polygamist group.

This week's proceedings are the latest attempt to test whether Canada's polygamy law violates the Constitution.

The RCMP first investigated Blackmore in the early 1990s and recommended he be charged with polygamy, but the province chose not to because of the constitutional uncertainty.

B.C. appointed a special prosecutor in 2007 who advised against approving charges against Blackmore and his successor, James Oler.

Oler was appointed to lead the community after Blackmore's excommunication by church leader Warren Jeffs, who was based in the United States. Jeffs was later sentenced to life in prison in the U.S. after being convicted of multiple sexual assaults against minors.

In 2008, the provincial government appointed a second special prosecutor who approved legal action against the church leaders, but the court threw out those charges, accusing the province of "special prosecutor shopping."

Three years later, the B.C. Supreme Court offered clarity by ruling in a lengthy reference case that Canada's ban on polygamy is valid and does not unreasonably restrict religious freedoms. …

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