Family Law

Canada to Review Polygamy Ban?

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In a case that could have an effect on United States law enforcement, a prominent Canadian criminal attorney serving as a special prosecutor has recommended that his country reconsider its ban on polygamy.

Appointed in a British Columbia case involving a U.S.-based splinter Mormon group that has reportedly openly practiced polygamy in Western Canada for years, Richard Peck has recommended that his country’s courts be asked to rule on the legality of plural marriage before any prosecution is pursued, reports Reuters.

The group has also allegedly forced underage young women into arranged polygamous marriages, but many are unwilling to cooperate with prosecution, according to the news service. Due to religious freedom considerations, it is uncertain whether Canadian courts would decide to enforce the country’s polygamy ban on the group. However, establishing a violation of anti-polygamy law apparently may be the only realistic basis for prosecution.

“The legality of polygamy in Canada has for too long been characterized by uncertainty,” Peck writes, in a report to British Columbia’s attorney general that was released today. “Polygamy is the underlying phenomenon from which all the other alleged harms flow, and the public interest would best be served by addressing it directly.”

In 2005, U.S. and Canadian authorities in Utah and British Columbia agreed to cooperate in enforcing claims of sexual exploitation in both countries by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The group has some 10,000 members in Utah, B.C., Arizona and Texas. Its Canadian community was established in the 1940s.

Warren Jeffs, the group’s U.S. leader, is now awaiting trial in Utah in an accomplice rape case. He is charged with having ordered a 14-year-old girl to marry and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin against her wishes. Jeffs was the subject of a recent ABA Journal feature article.

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