Canadian court to be asked if polygamy is legal

Thu Oct 22, 2009 5:35pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A Canadian court will be asked if the country's laws against polygamy violate constitutional protections of religious freedom, British Columbia's attorney general said on Thursday.

The law's constitutionality was left in limbo last month after a judge tossed out a criminal case against two members of a breakaway Mormon sect that practices polygamy in the Western Canadian province, Michael de Jong said.

"There is a question that needs to be answered, and it's a very basic one: Is polygamy a crime in Canada?" de Jong told reporters in announcing the special case to be filed in British Columbia Supreme Court -- a trial level court.

Some civil rights lawyers have warned that the 19th Century law, which has never been tested, was likely unconstitutional, and officials had for years declined to pursue charges against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

The U.S.-based sect has maintained a community it calls Bountiful along the British Columbia-Idaho border since the 1940s. It also has communities in Utah, Colorado, Texas and Arizona.

De Jong believes the polygamy law is constitutional, but said that because last month's ruling dismissed the case on an unrelated technical issue the province had to find a different way to resolve the question and pursue charges.

Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the federal government supports the province's action and will help. "The practice of polygamy has no place in modern Canadian society," Nicholson said in a statement.

One of the men charged in the case, Winston Blackmore, has argued maintaining a so-called plural marriage was his religious right. Police allege Blackmore has 20 wives.   Continued...