Bountiful, British Columbia is one of Canada’s national shames. For over 60 years a polygamist compound has been in existence with full knowledge of Canadian authorities. Young girls are regularly ferried back and forth across the Canadian/US border to cut down on inbreeding. As part of their religious practices the Fundamentalist Mormons of Latter Day Saints believe in the practice of celestial marriage, or what is commonly known as polygamy. To enter heaven all must practice the principle.
If these relationships were between consenting adults the practice of polygamy would not be disturbing, but the fact of the matter is that these unions more often than not consist of grown men marrying teenage girls. It is not unheard of for a fifteen year old girl to be married to a man three to four times her age.
These girls are raised from birth to believe that it is their duty to marry who they are told and to produce as many children as possible. Since Bountiful is a closed community, they are not even able to have access to the same kinds of socialization i.e. public schools, playgrounds, media, that other Canadians do. Their entire lives are steeped in the practices of the Fundamentalist Mormon church.
The trials of the young women have been well documented by those that have escaped and the boys that were forcibly removed to reduce competition. Finally after repeated calls for justice, Attorney General Wally Oppal built a case and had Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44 arrested by the RCMP. Blackmore is said to have over one hundred children by his twenty-six wives. The pair have been charged with “practicing polygamy.”
According to the Calgary Herald, “At a polygamy summit in 2006, Blackmore admitted that he had had “several” very young “wives” including one who was under 16. He repeated that when he was interviewed by CNN’s Larry King.”
This case is expected to go all the way to the supreme court of Canada as freedom of religion is an issue covered under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To further complicate the issue Blackmore is claiming that this is further discriminatory, because same gender marriage is legal in Canada.
According to MSNBC, “Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said during a telephone interview that marriage standards in Canada have changed.”
“If (homosexuals) can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can’t marry more than one person?” said Suffredine, a former provincial lawmaker. Canada’s Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005.”
Suffredine was quoted by the CBC as saying, “I don’t understand why our law would sanction that as criminal behaviour if it’s between consenting adults. You can live in a communal relationship and not breach any laws, but if you actually promise to look after the other person in a ceremony, you’ve committed a criminal act,” Suffredine said Tuesday.
Same gender marriage is legal in Canada, however all participants must be of the age of consent. This is the issue that Blackmore and his attorneys fail to recognize in their arguments. There is an extreme imbalance of power between a child and an adult. Therefore, any resulting relationship could never be equal.
Given the circumstances that govern the compound, an imbalance of power is even more striking. If a man is held up as a prophet and all women are deemed only necessary for reproduction even relationships between adults would hold an extreme imbalance in power. It is difficult to say that these women are even choosing to remain in these relationships when we consider that many are so ignorant of the basics of Canadian society their ability to function outside of the their tightly knit community would be severely hampered. Many are unaware of our social programs like mothers’ allowance and see living on the compound as their only option. A choice within constrained circumstances is not necessarily a choice.
Polygamy as practiced by the Fundamentalist Mormons of Bountiful is counter to the morals upheld by our free society. While it is definitely permissible for them to practice their religion as they see it fit, the charter in no way upholds pedophilia. Many of their wives have reached the age of consent but that does not erase the criminality that took place when they married their husbands in celestial marriages when they were underage. Child abuse is child abuse, no matter what label we put on it.
The government has already acted as co-conspirator to the abuse of these women for years by not ensuring that their education was of the same standard received in all public schools across British Columbia, and by allowing the transport of minors across an international border for the purposes of sexual abuse. It is Canadian tax dollars that go to fund the literal brainwashing of children. A Bible can be part of a curriculum, but it should not make up it entirety, especially not in an age when advanced education, or a solid trade, is necessary to achieve subsistence.
This issue is further problematized by the fact that though Blackmore claims to be a prophet, he holds no advanced degrees in theology. His instruction amounts to a layman’s account of Biblical text, devoid of any scholarly interpretations. These children are purposefully handicapped by a lack of education therefore making it extremely difficult to assimilate into the larger culture should they choose or have the ability to escape.
What Blackmore wants is not a freedom of religion; he wants a government mandate to abuse underage girls and to purposefully indoctrinate the young. Though to some degree in the process of socialization we are indoctrinated with the cultural mores of the society from which we originate, what is missing in Bountiful for the young girls in particular is the element of choice. These girls are taught from the womb to subvert their will and keep sweet until they are matched with their suitor. Critical thought and honest engagement are considered an anathema, as ultimately the will of the prophet is law.
There is no room in Canadian society or culture for a fiefdom. To affirm the practices of Blackmore not only subvert Canadian law, they are an affront to individual freedoms. Though his day of justice has been long overdue, it is my hope that when he does have his date with the Supreme Court that they will affirm that all people matter and reject his religious justification for female sexual slavery.