British Columbia

B.C. polygamy ruling might go unchallenged

Friday is the final day for any appeals against the B.C. Supreme Court ruling that upholds the Criminal Code ban on polygamy and, by all indications, no appeal attempt is forthcoming.

Agreement from a higher court could lend weight to the B.C. Supreme court ruling

Children run back to class following a recess at Mormon Hills school in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Time is running out to appeal last month's B.C. Supreme Court ruling that upheld Canada's ban on polygamy.

The 30-day appeal period ends Friday, and so far there has been no appeal.

Vancouver lawyer George Macintosh, who was appointed by the government to argue in court earlier this year that Canada's Criminal Code provisions outlawing polygamy are unconstitutional, has indicated he won't be appealing.

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond issued a statement saying she respects Macintosh's decision but as far as the province goes, Bond will only say her lawyers continue to review the decision.

It is up to the provincial and federal governments to decide whether to take the case to a higher court to ensure the ruling is applicable across Canada, but that decision doesn't have a deadline.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman ruled that the ban on polygamy infringes on some sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also that the criminalization of polygamy is justified.

More legal weight

The province could ask that the case be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal for another decision. If the province won again in appeal, it would give the law banning polygamy more legal weight.

British Columbia could then take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a decision in its favour would uphold the law across the country.

The federal government also has the ability to take the case directly to the Supreme Court of Canada, but Ottawa has yet to address the polygamy ruling.

Bauman’s Nov. 23 decision was connected to the province's long-running quest to mount legal cases against the leaders of polygamous communities in the southeastern B.C. community of Bountiful.

Many people in Bountiful openly live in plural marriages, and for years there have been reports of teenage girls from Bountiful being sent to the United States to marry older men connected to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Past defendant expected appeal

The ruling is the result of a reference case launched by the B.C. government in 2009 after polygamy charges against Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler were stayed.

The government launched the reference case to determine if anti-polygamy laws would withstand a challenge to Canada's constitutional sections guaranteeing religious freedom.

In a 335-page ruling, Bauman said the polygamy law impairs somewhat the constitutional right of religious freedom, but it is justified by the harms polygamy causes to women, children and society.

Bountiful sect leader Winston Blackmore was charged with polygamy, only to see the charges withdrawn. (CBC)
Blackmore said in an earlier interview he always believed the polygamy case would end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

"At the beginning, our best advice that we have heard on both sides of the equation was that it would go to the Supreme Court of Canada," he said in Bountiful last month.

"No one ever thought that a single judge would make a decision on the constitutionality of polygamy."

Blackmore had said he believed that Macintosh would appeal the ruling.

Blackmore could not be immediately reached for comment on Macintosh's decision not to appeal.