B.C. pops the question: Is polygamy a crime?


Dirk Meissner

The Canadian Press


VICTORIA–Canadians and the justice system need clarity on whether polygamy is a crime, British Columbia’s attorney general said Thursday in announcing he will ask the B.C. Supreme Court for an opinion on the federal law barring multiple marriage.

Mike de Jong said the government has decided to seek the opinion rather than appeal last month’s court ruling that quashed polygamy charges against the leaders of a controversial religious sect in southeastern B.C.

Joe Arvay, lawyer for one of the men, Winston Blackmore, said his client wants to participate in the hearing, to ensure the court hears his side of the story.

"The process will only be fair if the (case) is able to make sure all of the relevant facts are put forward to test the constitutionality of the law, and it will also only be fair if the government provides funding for his involvement in the litigation," said Arvay.

The lawyer said he and his client support the government’s decisions to test the polygamy law in court and not to appeal last month’s ruling quashing the charges against Blackmore and James Oler.

"It’s about time," said Arvay.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson issued a statement saying Ottawa, too, will take part in the B.C. action to ensure the law against polygamy in Canada is upheld.

De Jong said the court approach, which he intends to file as early as Friday, is the preferred way to get "to the very heart of the matter, which is whether or not polygamy is a crime in Canada."

Earlier this year the attorney general’s ministry announced the polygamy charges against Blackmore and Oler, the leaders of the polygamous sect in Bountiful, B.C.

Blackmore was accused of having 19 wives and Oler three.

The men said the law is a violation of their charter right to religious freedom. Blackmore also said the charges were a political stunt by a government gearing up for an election in the spring.

De Jong said taking the question to the B.C. Supreme Court is consistent with recommendations the province has received from previous special prosecutors.




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