British Columbia

Pro-polygamy women's testimony delayed

The B.C. court case on Canada's law against polygamy will hear Tuesday from women involved in polygamy who want the law tossed out.

The B.C. court examining Canada's law against polygamy will hear Tuesday from women involved in polygamy who want the law tossed out.

A Supreme Court judge is considering the constitutionality of the law and has spent nearly two months hearing about the alleged harms of polygamy.

The women were expected to testify Monday, but proceedings were cancelled. No reason for the cancellation was given.

Several women and men who left polygamous communities have recounted what they described as physical and emotional abuse.

But this week's testimony is expected to offer a rare glimpse inside Bountiful, a highly secretive Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) sect in southeastern B.C. that resists outside scrutiny.

"These people from the FLDS community will be almost the only witnesses who have direct experience with polygamy in Canada," said George Macintosh, a court-appointed lawyer who is arguing against the current law.

"It's all very well for high-priced lawyers and high-priced experts to discuss things, but if we're doing so without regard to how it really works it's not a very valid exercise."

Decriminalize polygamy, says woman

Bountiful has about 1,000 residents who are members of the fundamentalist Mormon sect that practises polygamy. The mainstream church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

The judge in the case granted a rare request to allow the women to testify anonymously. They will answer questions through a video link and their faces will be hidden.

In written affidavits filed with the court, Bountiful's women describe polygamy as a vital and rewarding part of their faith but insist no one is ever forced to marry. At least two of the women are single but say they hope one day to become plural wives.

"Although I know I have the option to say yes or no to the person I am called by the prophet to marry, I believe the prophet is inspired of God on these matters," writes a 25-year-old woman, identified only as witness No. 11.

The woman says that she has never seen the physical abuse that has been described at the hearing and that if a man abuses his wife, his family will be "taken from him and given to a man who will love and care for them carefully."

She says it's the law that has hurt the community.

"I sure think it would be a change for the better if polygamy was not a crime," she says.

"We could spend less on lawyers and more on our families. And we would not have the worry of perhaps going to jail, and we would be at peace knowing that our children will never be stolen away from their families."

Two years ago, police moved into the community and arrested two leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who were each charged with practising polygamy.

Those charges were later tossed out, prompting the province to launch the constitutional reference.