VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – The British Columbia government has asked the province’s Supreme Court to clarify whether polygamy is illegal in Canada. The attorney general’s office seeks clarification after charges were dismissed against James Oler and Winston Blackmore, rival leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The charges against the polygamous leaders were thrown out because of alleged “prosecutor shopping” by the province’s former attorney general, Wally Oppal.
After two prosecutors appointed to look into allegations of child exploitation and polygamy in the small community of Bountiful declined to file charges, Oppal appointed a third prosecutor, who did recommend charges.
Those charges were dropped in September. The province’s current attorney general, Michael de Jong, said the province will not appeal the decision.
Instead, it has asked the B.C. Supreme Court to answer these questions:
“Is section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars and to what extent?
“What are the necessary elements of the offence in section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada? Without limiting this question, does section 293 require that the polygamy or conjugal union in question involved a minor, or occurred in a context of dependence, exploitation, abuse or authority, a gross imbalance of power, or undue influence?”
DeJong added, in a statement: “Until Canadians and the justice system have clarity about the constitutionality of our polygamy laws, all provinces, including ours, face a lengthy and costly legal process in prosecuting alleged offences.
“British Columbians and Canadians deserve and want to know whether valid laws are in place that prohibit polygamous relationships, particularly when those relationships involve minors. I am asking the court for its direction so the justice system, in B.C. and in Canada, can address the serious social harms that can result from the practice of polygamy.”