Supreme Court asked to weigh in on polygamy laws

Justine Hunter

VICTORIA Globe and Mail Update

B.C. Attorney-General Mike de Jong is asking the courts to finally settle the decades-old question of whether polygamy is illegal in Canada.

The reference to the courts is unusual but aims to remove “lingering doubts” that have hampered the province’s ability to prosecute against the practice of having multiple wives, Mr. de Jong told a news conference.

Last month, the province’s case against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two men who have numerous wives, was quashed by the Supreme Court of British Columbia because the provincial government acted unfairly in pursuing the prosecution.

Today Mr. de Jong said he will not appeal that ruling.

Instead he will refer two questions to B.C. Supreme Court. The first seeks a ruling on whether the section of the Criminal Code which declares polygamy illegal is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The second amplifies the question of what happens when minors are involved.

“We believe polygamy is against the law,” he said. “The problem now is the lingering doubt” about whether the constitutional right to religious freedom trumps the Criminal Code.

He said a direct reference to the courts will get to the heart of the question – is polygamy illegal in Canada – faster than battling in the courts over how the initial prosecution was launched.

He said he expects Crown lawyers for B.C. and the federal government will be arguing that polygamy is illegal in Canada. By bringing the question to the Supreme Court of B.C., lawyers for both sides of the argument will be to call witnesses. Mr. de Jong wants to “put a human face” on the impact that lifestyle has on young men and women in the community, he said.

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