Should polygamists be tolerated—or arrested?

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Is polygamy “a religious freedom?” asked Charles Lewis in the Toronto National Post. That’s the question now facing the Supreme Court of Canada. The government has been trying to shut down the town of Bountiful, British Columbia, ever since the mid-1940s, when a group of American Mormons excommunicated from their church for polygamy settled there. In the past decade alone, prosecutors have tried three times to bring charges against Bountiful’s leaders—generally for having sex with their underage wives—but they were never able to get enough evidence to proceed. They didn’t dare apply Canada’s Criminal Code statute against polygamy, assuming it would be struck down as going against the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Finally, the province’s Attorney-General Wally Oppal appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. In a report released two weeks ago, the prosecutor recommended that the government “take the polygamy issue straight to court for a constitutional ruling.” Most legal experts believe that the law will be upheld—and that it then can be wielded against Bountiful.

Don’t be so sure, said Alan Ferguson in the Vancouver Province. Marriage is evolving in Canada. Just two years ago, Canadians “collectively decided that two people of the same gender can be joined in matrimony.” In divorce custody cases, the courts have ruled that a child can have three or four legal parents. Given these precedents, what reason can we give—other than “medieval bigotry”—to justify limiting any Canadian to one spouse at a time? After all, we’re not just talking about the ex-Mormons in Bountiful. “Polygamy is quietly practiced by an unknown number of Muslims in this country, for whom sharia law permits up to four wives.” Does the government really want to deny these people their freedom of religion?

Polygamy is not a matter of religious freedom, said The Vancouver Sun. As practiced in Bountiful, it does not involve consenting adults. Girls in Bountiful are routinely married off at 14 to men in their 50s, having been brainwashed into believing that early marriage is the path to heaven. Yet we’ve been unable to prosecute, because every time police find a young girl “forced into an arranged multiple marriage with an older man,” she proves unwilling to testify.

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Lyn Cockburn

The Edmonton Sun

Norman Spector

Toronto Globe and Mail

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