Blame Canada!

Today I was in a meeting with the entire British Cabinet, Prime Minister and everything. As they drifted one by one in to the vast expanse in which the event was held (for believe it or not, it was not just me they had come to see), I noted that contrary to what would have been thought as acceptable 15 or 20 years ago, a couple of the key players were confirmed practising homosexuals, and what had laid the ground for this thought was a blog a few days ago on the Telegraph website, which had pointed out that the same was true of the Shadow Cabinet, two of whom have registered civil partnerships with other people of the same gender. I write today not to enter the debate of whether this is a Good Thing, but instead to say that if you don’t like other people to be free to have polygamous relationships, and find in another 15 or 20 years time, that it doesn’t really matter whether you like it because they can do it and you have to put up with it, then please, think back to today, and in the words of the vile South Park song “BLAME CANADA”.

Now, apart from the sheer pleasure that blaming a rarely-noticed nation will give you, there are actually pretty good reasons why Canada, and specifically British Columbia should attract your finger pointing, for yesterday on Wednesday 7 January 2008, a possible front runner date for a future annual Polygamy Freedom Day, the British Columbia Authorities, in the shape of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have arrested and charged two rival fundamentalist Mormon Bishops with practising polygamy.

The details are as follows. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints had a set-up in the town of Bountiful, British-Columbia. When in 2002, FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs fell out with Bishop Winston Blackmore who led the community, he deposed him and appointed James Oler in his place, and the community split in two – with Blackmore being fairly openly polygamous in a land where he believed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed him safety from prosecution, and with Oler living still polygamously but comparatively quietly. Various folk were offended at the whole polygamy thing, and complained and moaned to the state’s attorney general Wally Oppal, who didn’t like it much either, but had a difficulty finding a lawyer who thought that a polygamy charge would stand-up in court. So he went off and got a special prosecutor (Richard Peck) to investigate the case, and then another one Leonard Doust)  and then another one (Terence Robertson)- until getting sick of finding eminent lawyers who were prepared to say unpleasant things about polygamy, before concluding that it was a human right, he finally found someone to agree with him enough to launch a prosecution.

And that is one of the significant things in this case – the apparent shopping for a favourable legal view by a politician, leading to a charge against some polygamists which will have the effect of making him look like he’s doing something substantial after all. That’s exactly the kind of thing that Charters of Rights are supposed to protect people from – and in this case there was a recommendation that has not been followed – namely to take a reference to the relevant Supreme Court, which would involve no direct oppression of any individual defendant until the law was clear, and this would have led to a quicker result than a method which required a prosecution first.

The other thing of course is the charge – “practicing polygamy”. We’ve not had any charges of sexual exploitation of underage girls, which was the ostensible purpose behind the prosecutions of Tom Green in Utah, of Warren Jeffs in Utah and (soon) Arizona, and for the bungled and abortive mass detention of hundreds of women and children from the FLDS temple in Texas last year. For years there has been a discernable pattern of defamation in polygamy cases – only charge someone with polygamy when you also have the evidence to charge them with something else, preferably a sex crime. Imagine there was an ancient unenforced law against a black man marrying a white woman, but that it was only ever charged whenever there was also evidence of other sexual offending, defaming interracial marriage by linking it to deviant criminality. This is what has been happening with polygamy, assuring a lack of public support, and an unfavourable environment for any appeal cases on the legal issues around polygamy. But not this time. So far, there’s not enough to make sex charges stick, and so the issue of polygamy may yet have to be decided all on its own.

This will run and run. I should thank the RCMP and Wally Oppal for all the visitors they will send to this site, for any increased purchase and readership for my book  Polygamy, Bigamy and Human Rights Law (Kindle edition) which has already been referenced in some official studies of polygamy in Canada, and for keeping polygamy rights in the public consciousness at a time when the third series of “Big Love”, and the idiotic persecution in Texas have made it a human interest issue. (Update June 2011 – The book has been referred to in the British Columbia Supreme Court in the Polygamy Reference Case, which has been heard in full and now judgement is awaited. The book was entered into evidence as an exhibit and relied upon both by those arguing for decriminalisation of polygamy, and those seeking to maintain polygamy as a criminal offence.)

Blackmore and Oler are next in court on 21st January. See you then! – Follow this on this site in the new special category of “Blame Canada!” Meanwhile you can see some thoughtful reportage here and here, and at the Salt Lake Tribune, here and here.

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