Canada court told polygamy case is political abuse

Mon Jun 29, 2009 6:11pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Improper political interference led to polygamy charges being filed against two members of a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church, a Canadian court was told on Monday.

The court was asked to not proceed with charges against the members of U.S.-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which has been reported for years to be practicing plural marriages in a rural town in the Pacific Coast Canadian province of British Columbia.

The case is the first major test of Canada's more than century-old polygamy law, which some civil rights lawyers have warned may violate the country's constitutional protections of religious freedom.

Defense lawyers said British Columbia's attorney general abused the system by appointing a new special prosecutor after one appointed in 2007 declined to file charges because the case was likely not winnable. The new prosecutor did file charges.

"(The 2007 decision) should have been the end of the matter," said Bruce Elwood, an attorney for Winston Blackmore, one of two prominent members of the FLDS who were arrested in January.

The province decided to use a special prosecutor to avoid a possible conflict of interest because its own internal criminal prosecutors had warned in the 1990s the law was likely unconstitutional.

"The special prosecutor was intended to avoid any risk, real or perceived, of political interference," Elwood told a judge in Vancouver.

The FLDS established a community called Bountiful a short distance from the U.S. border in Lister, British Columbia, in the 1940s, where it is believed to have several hundred members.   Continued...

<p>Winston Blackmore (R), a leader in a British Columbia polygamist community, takes notes as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtless (L) talks to media in Vancouver, British Columbia December 8, 2005. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>