Bountiful, B.C. is polygamist town in south central British Columbia. In 1946 Harold Blackmore purchased property near the town of Lister; before long other fundamentalist Mormon families followed. This “plural marriage” haven was named Bountiful in the 1980’s under the leadership of Bishop Winston Blackmore. Since then the population has grown from 600 to around 1000; conservative estimates credit half a dozen men for “bountiful” growth.
About half the residents are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (FDLS), the rest are a break away sect following Winston Blackmore; who concluded FDLS leader Warren Jeffs had become too dictatorial. Prior to Warren Jeffs 2006 conviction for rape, Jeffs was a frequent visitor to Bountiful.
In 2007 the Province of B.C. appointed lawyer Richard Peck as a “special prosecutor” investigating allegations of polygamy. Peck concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge members under the Canadian criminal code; allegations of rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, where likely to be met by uncooperative witnesses claiming “religious freedom”. Peck suggested the province sort the matter out in front of a judge – specifically determining if section 293 of the criminal was constitutional. In 2011 the Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld the polygamy law.
293. (1) Every one who
(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or
(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
Evidence in case of polygamy
(2) Where an accused is charged with an offence under this section, no averment or proof of the method by which the alleged relationship was entered into, agreed to or consented to is necessary in the indictment or on the trial of the accused, nor is it necessary on the trial to prove that the persons who are alleged to have entered into the relationship had or intended to have sexual intercourse.
Call me crazy but I just don’t get it. Despite a clearly defined criminal code, close ties to the YFZ ranch in Texas (dozens of children placed in state custody in a 2008 raid following accusations of sexual abuse), multiple allegations of abuse by Winston Blackmore -some resulting in charges later tossed out of court – Bountiful thrives with impunity. The province stopped funding Bountiful’s schools in 2012 – all but a handful now home schooled – I’m sure that had them shaking in their boots. Warren Jeffs went to jail, Sister Wives aired on TV and now everything is sunshine and roses? Yeah, right.
“Religious freedom” doesn’t mean getting away with forced marriage and sexual abuse. What good is law if religion gets to thumb their noses at it?