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Archive for the ‘Texas FLDS’ Category

This blog post from “Progressive Proselytizing” caught our attention:

On the Morality of Polygamy Law: Freedom vs Harm

Should polygamy be legal? This question is at the core of the landmark polygamy case slowly working its way up the Canadian justice system. To answer this, we look at the balance between harm and freedom. The balance in this case is contrasted to the case of gay marriage.

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The following article, written by Kate Heartfield of the ‘Ottawa Citizen’, echoes some of our talking points raised with government officials in both Utah and Arizona concerning the laws against adult consensual polygamy.

The polygamy reference case has already made a valuable contribution: It has focused the debate on the question of harm. Apologists for the current law are now having to try to show that polygamy, in and of itself, always and necessarily hurts people. I don’t believe they’re succeeding, but I do see this as a promising first step toward creating a rational and effective legal strategy for dealing with abuse in polygamous communities.

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Since we’re highlighting the Canadian Polygamy Case involving Winston Blackmore and James Oler, I thought I would share an interesting discussion from a Law is Cool Podcast early last year.

Law is Cool Podcast: Polygamy and the Law

Also, check out one of the significant comments from that podcast…

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Kirk Torgenson with the Utah Attorney General’s Office gave a presentation about “Polygamy Victimization” at this year’s NOVA Conference.  We do not have the transcript from his presentation but Brooke Adams’ blog gave us some information about what he talked about.

The following exceprt is from her blog:

Kirk Torgensen, chief deputy in the Utah Attorney General’s Office, spoke Tuesday at the National Organization For Victim Assistance conference, being held in Salt Lake City.

His topic? “Polygamy Victimization.”

Former plural wife Carolyn Jessop also spoke. More on her in the next post. But here is a recap of what Torgensen had to say.

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Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Polygamy+court+case+shines+spotlight+Creston+divisions/1199308/story.html

CRESTON — The practice of polygamy sets neighbour against neighbour, parent against child, politician against politician and even some husbands against wives in this southeastern B.C. town.

It’s not that townsfolk here are polygamists. But Creston’s proximity to the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful, where some men unabashedly have more than one wife, makes it a more frequent topic than most would like.

Wednesday, the spotlight will be on it again.

Two of the Bountiful’s leaders will be in court for the first time since having been charged earlier this month with practising polygamy, a criminal offence that carries a penalty of up to five years in jail.

Winston Blackmore, 52, is charged with having had conjugal relations with 19 women. James Oler, 44, is charged with having two “wives.”

Both have polygamy as a tenet of their beliefs and family trees so intertwined that you need a flow chart. But the enmity between the two and their followers is even greater than the divide in town.

Nothing more starkly illustrates the town’s and maybe even the country’s divide over polygamy than Blackmore’s defence team. It includes Blair Suffredine, the former Liberal MLA for Nelson-Creston, who during his single term had several meetings with local activists who urged him to do something about Bountiful.

“It’s an interesting complication,” Suffredine said Tuesday. “But it’s not a conflict of interest. My time as an MLA gave me a good opportunity to see both sides of the issue.”

After meeting with constituents who complained about Bountiful, Suffredine says he met with Blackmore, who responded “in a very positive way.”

But news that the former MLA was working for Blackmore shocked and infuriated Linda Price and Audrey Vance, co-chairs of a local group called Altering Destiny Through Education.

They’ve spent the last five years lobbying politicians, including Suffredine, to tighten the rules for two taxpayer-supported schools at Bountiful, investigate allegations of child brides, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and polygamy and prosecute the leaders.

“I feel betrayed,” Price said Tuesday. “He must have been slapping Winston’s back or Winston was slapping his back and we didn’t realize it.”

They recalled meetings with Suffredine and how he had told them that he thought prosecuting polygamists was a waste of money because the polygamy law was unconstitutional.

Vance says it helps explain why it has taken so long for charges to be laid.

“Too many of the people in this community were good friends of Winston Blackmore,” Vance said.

But Price says, it’s an indication of how opinion divides here. “I think quite often it’s men against women. . . Women realize what’s going on and men say ‘Leave them alone, they’re nice hard-working people, leave them alone.’”

Acting mayor Wesly Graham calls the people from Bountiful “good neighbours. We have good relations. We interact with them in town.”

But when it comes to the question of polygamy, he admits it is such an explosive topic that the town council is trying to stay neutral.

Its official position is that the mayor and councillors believe it will be a landmark case on the issue of religious freedom and that they hope that the justice system will bring some clarity to the law.

Neutrality is a big change. For years, the town council adopted the live-and-let-live view. It was only a few years ago after more reports of underage girls becoming plural wives to older men, that former mayor Joe Snopek backed calls for an investigation and even prosecution.

But John Kettle, the local representative on the regional district and the chairman of the hospital board, supported Suffredine financially and remains an outspoken defender of Blackmore’s right to practise polygamy as part of his religion.

That sure doesn’t reflect the views of a cluster of residents outside the Creston movie theatre Monday night. They questioned whether the equality rights of women and children are being upheld in Bountiful.

They raised concerns that close to $1 million worth of B.C. tax dollars go into the schools and yet few from Bountiful ever graduate from high school.

They wanted to know why Canada’s anti-polygamy law isn’t being upheld and why some legal experts are suggesting that there should be different laws for different groups in Canada.

Of course, they had just watched Bill Maher’s Religulous. The timing of the one-night run of the comic-documentary questioning all beliefs and faiths was serendipitous, but the approaching Blackmore-Oler court appearance might have helped account for the full house and some of the big laughs.

As divided as Creston may be, it is nothing compared to Bountiful.

Until 2002, Blackmore was the bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Oler replaced him after Blackmore left the group, fed up with the increasingly draconian diktats and apocalyptic revelations coming from the FLDS prophet.

Blackmore was subsequently excommunicated and took about half of Bountiful’s 1,000 residents with him. Since then, FLDS followers have shunned Blackmore and his followers, warned that even talking to them could put their own salvation at risk.

All of which makes any kind of joint defence highly unlikely.

In fact, with ongoing and impending litigation facing jailed FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs and leaders in two states, and trials set to begin soon for nine other church leaders in Texas, Oler and the FLDS might be quite content to let Blackmore lead an expensive constitutional battle, chiming in only when it suits their interests.

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http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/comment/story.html?id=9d20913a-67e3-4329-8738-7a1d2a6f16d8&p=2

If nothing else, Attorney General Wally Oppal’s dogged pursuit of the Bountiful religious sect’s leaders has resulted in some of the oddest bail conditions ever imposed in B.C.

Winston Blackmore, leader of one faction in the commune, was released yesterday on condition that he stop getting married until the polygamy issue is sorted out.

He’s reputed to have 20 wives, and he’s going to have to make do with the status quo for a while until the charge laid against him is resolved.

Which will probably take years, if the decades-long history of the B.C. government’s handling of this case is any indication.

Most of that history has been characterized by a hands-off approach where authorities looked the other way and maintained a scrupulous lack of interest in the remote Kootenay valley where middle-aged men routinely marry multiple women, many of them teenage girls.

Growing unease with that peculiar lifestyle led to an official look-see a few years ago. But even after a thorough investigation, the government was warned numerous times to tread lightly.

At least six prosecutors — four in-house Crown counsel and two independents — have looked deeply into the case over the past few years and recommended against charges. Mostly it’s because the criminalization of polygamy appears to conflict with the Bountiful commune’s right to religious freedom.

But Oppal has insisted on pressing on.

After the four senior Crown counsel recommended against laying charges, the attorney general hired lawyer Richard Peck to review the case again. He considered every sex and marriage-related offence in the Criminal Code and was unable to find one that would result in a substantial likelihood of conviction.

He recommended instead appealing to the courts for a reference ruling on the validity of the polygamy law, in relation to the charter of rights.

“My view is that the public interest will best be served by an authoritative and expeditious judicial resolution of the legal controversy surrounding polygamy.”

His idea was that if the 120-year-old polygamy law is declared unconstitutional, then the federal government would have to draft a new law that is compliant. And if the polygamy law was upheld, then Bountiful would have fair notice their practice must cease.

Unsatisfied with that road map, Oppal retained lawyer Leonard Doust to draw up another one.

But Doust last year arrived at the same conclusions. “A reference rather than a prosecution is the most appropriate way to proceed at this time.”

“It is not an attempt to dodge or delay dealing with the problems in Bountiful. On the contrary, it is the swiftest, most effective and fairest way of beginning to address them,” Doust wrote.

He went even further, stating that while a prosecution might “superficially carry the appearance of engagement, I believe that it likely represents a much slower route to a real solution, if it is a viable route at all.”

Oppal rejected that opinion as well, and promptly ordered up a third outside look, this time by lawyer Terrence Robertson.

He was named special prosecutor last June and given full authority over how the case was to be handled. It was his decision that led to yesterday’s arrest of Blackmore and a co-accused.

After three tries, Oppal has finally found a lawyer who agrees with him.

The attorney general candidly acknowledged that’s the only difference.

“Nothing has really changed as far as the evidence from 2007 is concerned,” he said.

Oppal is no legal dummy. He’s a longtime lawyer and former judge, with his own views on how to proceed. He told reporters yesterday: “Having been on the court of appeal, I can tell you that courts do not like to decide cases in a vacuum, without the presence of facts or evidence.”

If the government had followed the reference route, he raised the prospect of the courts declining to hear it, which would just lengthen the stall.

So they’re going the other route, laying charges based on evidence alleging that Blackmore is a practising polygamist.

Oppal called it the “conventional” approach. But there’s nothing conventional about ignoring two special prosecutors’ recommendations, and then proceeding entirely independently of the criminal justice branch, which has more or less washed its hands of this matter.

He could still win the day, after a lengthy legal war in which everything from the Bible to the charge approval requirements will be dragged into the fray.

But if he loses, the end result could be the complete decriminalization of polygamy for the foreseeable future.

Either way, Blackmore will likely be in a holding pattern for several years to come.

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Two top leaders of a polygamous community in western Canada have been arrested and charged with practicing polygamy, British Columbia’s attorney general said Wednesday.

Attorney General Wally Oppal said Winston Blackmore is charged with marrying 20 women, while James Oler is accused of marrying two women.

“This has been a very complex issue,” Oppal said. “It’s been with us for well over 20 years.”

Blackmore, long known as “the Bishop of Bountiful,” runs an independent sect of about 400 members in the town of Bountiful. He once ran the Canadian arm of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but was ejected in 2003 by that group’s leader, Warren Jeffs.

Oler is the bishop of Bountiful’s FLDS community loyal to Jeffs. Even though many of the town’s residents are related or have same last name, followers of the two leaders are splintered and are not allowed to talk with each other.

FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. Mormons renounced polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood.

Last June, Oppal appointed a special prosecutor to look into allegations of criminal abuse at Bountiful despite two earlier legal opinions that said it would be difficult to proceed with criminal charges for polygamy itself.

Blackmore openly acknowledges having numerous wives and dozens of children but has said his community abhors sexual abuse of children.

Oppal said some legal experts believe polygamy charges won’t withstand a constitutional challenge in Canada over the issue of freedom of religion.

“I’ve always taken the position that’s a valid offense in law,” Oppal said. “And if someone says that it’s contrary to their religion, let a judge make that decision.”

The FLDS, with an estimated 10,000 members, is headquartered in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. In 1947, a small group moved just across the border into Lister, British Columbia. The newcomers dubbed the pristine spot at the base of a snowy mountain range Bountiful.

Besides an estimated 1,000 Canadians living in Bountiful, the U.S. Embassy estimates there are about 300 Americans there who are loyal to Blackmore and 200 others who follow Jeffs, who is in jail awaiting trial in Arizona on four counts of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor.

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