The verdict is in and polygamy is out for former bishops Winston Blackmore and James Oler of the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community in Bountiful, B.C.
Justice Sheri Ann Donegan ruled to uphold section 293 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws polygamy, and the offenders could face up to five years imprisonment for their multiple marrying ways.
The gloves are off now as both Mr. Blackmore, who has 24 wives, and Mr. Oler, who has five, intend to argue that their religious practices, which harm women and children through polygamy, should be protected under constitutional rights to freedom of religion.
This matters to far more than a hidden-away community in southern British Columbia. Polygamy is actively practised across Canada by religious minorities. It’s not a private crime, but because of its hidden nature, we have little idea of the victimization of women and girls in polygamy. The fact that it takes escape or a hearing before a judge for us to find out the realities of polygamy should have us on alert to letting this crime pass under religious freedom accommodation.
The 2011 B.C. legal challenge that upheld Canada’s polygamy law put on record a scientific study led by University of British Columbia professor Joseph Henrich that detailed how polygamy increases sexual abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, higher infant and child mortality rates and intra-household conflict. It found polygamy decreased women’s rights because, in polygynous societies, women are seen as a commodity to be attained. The heartbreaking testimony of freedom lost under the lie of religion was summed up for me in an earlier interview I did with polygamy victim Irene Spencer.
“I looked around me and I had been threatened all my life that I would go directly to hell if I didn’t live polygamy and all of a sudden I woke up and realized that I already was in hell; they couldn’t send me any place any darker or further, I was in despair and hopelessness.”