The Current

Polyamorous families want Canadian law to catch up with their relationships

As unconventional, multi-person partnerships become more mainstream in Canadian society, The Current gets a first-hand look into legal challenges polyamorous families face such as getting benefits, doing taxes and filling out government forms.
Abhann Cupper Scott, Tia Thompson and Braelor Rolston are in a polyamorous relationship and say their family unit deserve more rights. (Courtesy of Abhann Cupper Scott)

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In June 2016, the Canadian Research Institute for Law and Family surveyed 500 Canadian polyamorists and their families — the first of its kind — and found the number of Canadians living in polyamorous relationships is significant, and believed to be growing.

Polyamorists have more than one committed intimate partner at a time. And unlike polygamy, polyamory is completely legal — though they face unique legal issues.

Tia Thompson and Abhann Cupper Scott are two members of a three-person relationship and say it's time Canadian law reflect the reality of polyamorous relationships.

Thompson tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay that their daily life reflects a typical family.

"We're a normal family that has a whole lot of love to give to a whole lot of people. We all sit down and eat dinner together and we adopted two cats... and we all work. We all watch Orange Is The New Black."

Scott tells Chattopadhyay that unlike polygamy, a polyamorous relationship is not driven by religion, "even though as Wiccans that fits our philosophies and beliefs." As well, Scott points to the difference that polyamory is based on a "shared voice together and equal communication and equal rights."

The polyamourous community recognizes Rolston, Thompson and Scott's relationship as an open, triad poly family. (Courtesy of Abhann Cupper Scott)

Thompson says medical benefits and a lack of legal precedent are just some of the challenges polyamorists face.

"It doesn't have to come in the form of tax benefits or tax breaks of any kind," says Thompson. "But when we go into a hospital — when something happens — we don't want to have to worry if, you know, spouse number two or the other wife or wife's husband is going to be asked to leave".

John Paul Boyd is the executive director of the University of Calgary's Canadian Research Institute for Law in the Family. He conducted a national survey of polyamorous families and found the number of people involved in polyamorous relationships seeking advice about issues such as parental rights, formalising relationships, and immigration is on the increase.

"Our research showed that the lion's share of of people involved in polyamorous relationships lived in three provinces —British Columbia followed by Ontario followed by Alberta," says Boyd.

"They tended to be young with almost 75 per cent of respondents being 44 years or younger .... have higher incomes than the Canadian population as a whole and they tended to be far better educated."

Boyd says that B.C. is the most "friendly" towards people in polyamorous relationships, while Alberta is the "least friendly."

"We're not talking about legalizing relationships that are already legal." Boyds tells Chattopadhyay. "We're talking about extending coverage under benefits and rights and responsibilities of the laws — on domestic relations to people that are in family structures like this."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Sujata Berry.