Polygamy has 'no place in Canada': justice minister
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, October 23, 2009 4:31PM EDT
The federal justice minister says polygamy has "no place in Canada," after calls for clarity on the issue from the British Columbia attorney general.
"The prohibition on polygamy is certainly consistent with Canadian values," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told reporters Friday at a news conference
He said the federal government is prepared to defend the law, which prevents people from being married to more than one person at one time.
His comment comes the day after B.C.'s attorney general said Canadians and the justice system need clarity on whether or not polygamy is a crime.
On Thursday, the B.C. government said it decided to seek an opinion rather than appeal a court ruling that quashed polygamy charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler. Both are leaders of breakaway sects of the Mormon Church in Bountiful, B.C. The mainstream church banned polygamy more than 100 years ago.
Blackmore was accused of having 19 wives and Oler three.
The charges were dropped because B.C.'s attorney general did not have the jurisdiction to appoint a second special prosecutor to consider charges against the men
On Thursday, Joe Arvay, the lawyer for Blackmore said his client wants to participate in the hearing, to make sure the court hears his side of the story. Lawyers for Blackmore and Oler argue the law is a violation of their charter rights to religious freedom.
At the news conference, Nicholson said the law is constitutional and complies with both the charter and the Canadian bill of rights.
"The prohibition on polygamy is consistent with Canadian values and I am confident it'll pass constitutional muster," Nicholson said.
He would not elaborate on what argument the federal government will be presenting in court to defend the law.
One constitutional law professor says that even if polygamous marriages do end up allowed, they may still pose legal problems.
"It would mean that those religious sects that use polygamy as their marriage form could go ahead and do it religiously but it would not make the marriage legal," Beverley Baines, a law professor at Queen's University told Canada AM.
The province will specifically ask the B.C. Supreme Court if the law barring polygamy is consistent with the charter and will also ask what role the law has in governing relationships between consenting adults and relationships with youth.
There have been allegations in Bountiful that teenage girls have been married to middle-aged men, and that some have been sent to the United States to marry older men in sister sects there.
"It's very crucial that the women involved in polygamous relationships...are given an opportunity to testify," said Baines.
The RCMP have launched numerous investigations into Bountiful since 1990, but prosecutors have repeatedly shied away from laying charges.
University of Western Ontario law professor Grant Huscroft told Canada AM the province should have acted earlier.
"The province got it into its head that the laws were unconstitutional. These are federal laws," said Huscroft.
"Rather than go ahead and charge and let the accused persons raise the argument about the law being unconstitutional, they got paralyzed into not doing anything and that's allowed basically a generation of polygamous conduct in British Columbia to go on," said Huscroft.
The charges were eventually laid under former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal proceeded with polygamy charges against Blackmore and Oler despite earlier legal opinions that the polygamy issue should be referred to the court as a test case.
CTV legal analyst Steven Skurka told CTV News Channel that this could be a long court battle.
"I think this is going to be a real test for the court," Skurka said. "I'm not predicting which way this will end up, its certainly going to be a close call."