Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bountiful, BC --- Religious Freedom or Canada's Shame?

The speaker for the recent Faculty Women's Club monthly meeting was Daphne Bramham, highly respected journalist and whose book The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect, was shortlisted for several national book awards. As journalist and columnist for the local Vancouver Sun, Daphne has been recognized for her hard hitting public interest journalism.

For some years Daphne has investigated the issue of polygamy as practised in the small community of Bountiful, tucked in the southeastern corner of British Columbia. Her interest arose from an email which a reader sent to her after reading her articles on illegal trafficking of Asian women. She challenged her to look into the situation of Canadian girls being trafficked to become concubines to polygamist men. And so she did, with this book the culmination of her exhaustive investigation of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, a sect of fundamentalist Mormonism which practises polygamy and the community of Bountiful, BC in particular.

Mormons agreed to give up polygamy in exchange for statehood in the United States of America and since have excommunicated practitioners of polygamy. The FLDS church was a break away sect which maintains that a man cannot enter the highest level of the kingdom of heaven without multiple wives and some practitioners arrived to settle in BC in the forties, despite the fact that polygamy is illegal in Canada.

The community consists of a mere five families and currently has a population of around 1000, with all the progeny originally descended from half a dozen men. The former bishop, Winston Blackmore, who actually was excommunicated from the FLDS church in the USA, has 26 wives, several of whom he married as teenagers, one a mere fifteen year old and more than 100 children. He has absolute power over the lives of his followers, although his excommunication in 2002 split the community in two. He administers an independent school which is more than 60% funded by the Provincial Government, as well as accredited by it, despite the fact that the children are not receiving a standard education and the sect actively promotes racism.

Children are considered and treated like chattel, girls must obey and they are forced into marriage at a very young age with men who are often old enough to be their grandfathers. The family genealogy is so convoluted that one young girl on her marriage became her own stepgrandmother.

Since the most powerful members of the community marry multiple times this eventually forces the young men to leave the community if they are to find wives and ill equipped as they are, lacking a real education, they become the lost boys of the title. Before they leave they are often employed by Blackmore in his various businesses and woefully underpaid for their hard work.

The marriages are of course unlawful, one only is usually registered and the others are religious ceremonies which are not recognized by the state since polygamy is illegal. However all the children are registered so that they may take advantage of the child allowances and welfare payments given by the government. A government which of course they consider an agent of Satan. They are all taught that it is perfectly acceptable to lie to outsiders, certainly about their family situations, outsiders whom they refer to as gentiles.

Some brides have been brought illegally into Canada from the United States and the US Consulate has been investigating the situation in Bountiful. One young girl came up to attend a cousin's wedding and was forced into a marriage herself.

Of course not everyone is happy in Bountiful and some people have left. Jane Blackmore, Winston's first wife and mother of seven of his children as well as the community widwife, divorced him after 17 years and left to give her children a better life. Debbie Palmer, at 15, was given by her father to be the 6th wife of a 57 year old man and became stepmother to 32 children. After her third marriage, at 34 she gained the courage to run from the community with her 8 children and became a strong advocate against polygamy. She documented her life in Bountiful in a book called Keep Sweet - Children of Polygamy.

For more than 60 years the authorities have ignored the blatant flouting of the law against polygamy. Some think that any testing of the law will find it unconstitutional and that it will be struck down. There is also the problem of the rights of religious freedom, as laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1985. However the Court went on to say that limits on religious freedom are "necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." Canada does recognize these limits in other cases, regardless of religious belief. They do not allow genital mutilation to be practised in this country. They do not allow Muslim immigrant men into the country with multiple wives. They have over-ruled the refusal of Jehovah's Witnesses** to use of blood products in their children when medically required. There certainly are precedents.

So what about the rights and freedoms of the women and children of Bountiful? In Daphne's opinion Canada has no moral authority to tell other countries what to do when they have this situation within their own borders. Why are Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban who advocate some of the very same things that are practised in Bountiful.? Their women have no freedom of dress, belief or action. They are forced into marriage while legally under age, some forceably raped. What about their rights? Surely no one would consider it right that girls as young as 13 and 14 years old are married to men in their fifties? Could this be considered child abuse? Harder to prove than polygamy. Basically this seems to be all about power and sex.

But there is some hope on the horizon. The current Attorney-General of BC, Wally Opal, has finally laid charges of polygamy against Winston Blackmore and the current bishop, James Oler. It is expected that the case will finally go before the Supreme Court of Canada and the law against polygamy will be tested. Of course no doubt the defense will ultimately be funded by the public purse.

Daphne spoke passionately about her subject. Five woman from Bountiful generously, if often painfully, shared memories of their life there and made this book possible. On one occasion, as she spoke, tears welled up in her eyes, so emotionally involved has she become in this situation. After she finished speaking, there were many questions from her very interested audience. Many of us have known about Bountiful, BC, albeit only marginally, until recently. Certainly Daphne has helped to publicize the shocking situation there, both in her articles in the Vancouver Sun and also with her widely acclaimed book, all based on meticulous research.

She had some copies of her book for sale and I purchased one which she graciously signed for me. That evening I read the first one hundred pages in one gulp and there was a lively discussion about her talk and her book at a luncheon I attended the next day with some of the people who had been there. It was indeed a mesmerizing book and I am very glad to have read it. Let's hope that it will be instrumental in getting the message out about this flagrant abuse of women and children's rights in the name of religious freedom.

* Daphne Bramham's image is from the Vancouver Sun

** Corrected to read Jehovah's Witnesses. My error in previously saying Seventh Day Adventists. Apologies to same.


Gledwood said...

she looks polygamous

The Pharisee said...

All of these horrible abusive practices, and yet.....

Blackmore and Oler have been charged with nothing more than bigamy.

After all that investigation.

Just polygamy, that's all.

Polygamy is not synonymous with abuse but that is what you have come to believe.

Anonymous said...

Polygamy is the root of so much abuse of women and children. Just like drug use is the root of so many problems: poverty, health issues, violence, criminal acts.

Bountiful is as much an embarassment to Canada as the Downtown Eastside. Canada cannot afford to turn a blind eye to these problems.

Carver said...

It is such a distressing subject and one that is good to be brought out into the public eye. There have also continued to be cases in the U.S. of splinter groups that still practice polygamy in secret. I have seen documentaries about it that were so upsetting. There has to be a way to protect the children. I'm also concerned about everyone in these communities but the children in particular, who are being taught to fear the outside world make me so sad.

yukon106 said...

There is a comment about Seventh-day Adventitst not permitting their children to use blood products in medical treatments. This is not true. I believe the writer is confusing Jehovahs Witnesses with Seventh-day Adventists in this case.

The Pharisee said...

Slocks, I am surprised to see they allow you to post from prison, the blood of Slovit cries out from the ground against you.

I guess the pen indeed is mightier than the sword.

Are you currently east, west, north or south of Montreal?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Goodness, I didn't know this was going on in Canada. It is just sickening.

Dr.John said...

I don't care how many wives a man has or how many husbands a woman has but I do care when the entire system abuses children and others.
The problem is that the one's being abused are often brain washed or scared and won't testify to what is happening. That makes it really hard for the court.
But it is the job of the state to find a way to protect the children and other victims.

The Pharisee said...

The law has been investigating Bountiful for years, they have not been able to find any abuse.

Anonymous said...

"The law has been investigating Bountiful for years, they have not been able to find any abuse."

That's incorrect. The law has found plenty of abuse and crime; they just haven't found enough people to testify. There is a BIG difference.

Law enforcement has had the same problem when dealing with the Mafia.

jmb said...

Gleds, you misunderstood. She wrote the book about polygamy in Bountiful.

Pharisee, they have been charged not with bigamy but polygamy. Just polygamy, which is of course illegal in Canada.

You don't think that forced/coerced "marriage" between an underage young girl and a man old enough to be her grandfather is not child abuse? That's why there are laws governing the minimum age for marriage. Or sending an underage young woman to another country to enter into an illegal polygamous union is not child abuse? Or that young boys are forced to work in this community owned businesses for less than the legal minimum wage? Is exploitation of minors not child abuse?

Slocks, whoever you are, Bountiful is an embarrassment to Canada and BC but hopefully the problem will be dealt with by the courts and if the law is unconstitutional, then I am sure it will be rewritten for I believe that Canadians do not wish polygamy to be legal in this country.

Carver, Warren Jeffs who is the former Bishop of this church in the USA is now in prison having been convicted of rape as an accomplice, in that he married at 14 year old girl to a 19 yr old youth. He also married a 12 year old himself.

Yukon106, I have corrected that and I added an apology to all Seventh Day Adventists. I don't know what I was thinking for I surely know that it is Jehovah's Witnesses who do not believe in the use of medicinal blood products.

Yes, Welshcakes, it is going on here and nothing has been done about it for more than 60 years.

Dr John, members of the community have left and are willing to testify and they do advocate against the system as it stands there. I agree it is up to the state to find a way to protect the children at least.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and putting your point of view.

The Pharisee said...


They've found plenty of crime and abuse but no one to testify.




No, not really...

jmb said...

Pharisee, they do have allegations of abuse from former members but being pragmatic consider that it might be harder to prove, whereas having multiple wives has been admitted openly/ boasted by Blackmore at least, that I know of. It's a start. Whether you agree with polygamy or not, it is illegal in Canada.

The Pharisee said...


I actually approve of the prosecution because it will settle the charter rights issue. Also, Canada is going about this the right way. Instead of salacious rumors about the goings on inside the polygynous Bountiful community, they've charged Oler and Blackmore with simple polygamy.

Yes, it is illegal in Canada, but Canada has been reluctant to prosecute or convict on bigamy charges and sometimes even used the law to deliberately create polygamies.

What's really going on? It's a test case.

Anonymous said...

You show me a healthy polygamous community and I'll show you a hot December in Winnipeg. They don't exist. The FLDS keeps itself isolated because it's the only way to effectively conceal the rampant criminal activity and abuse within the sect.

The practice of polygamy coincides with a broad erosion of women's rights and an increase in child abuse. Luckily, according to a recent survey, Canadians recognize this and don't want it to continue in their country.

jmb said...

Salacious rumours? I think that the testimony of those women who left the community is more than salacious rumours.

Yes it is a test case, your words, in a way. If it fails to convict, we could well see the law rewritten for I do not believe that Canadians as a society believe that polygamy is right, on religious grounds or otherwise.

I note that you avoid answering my question about whether you consider the forced/coerced marriage of an underage female to a man old enough to be her grandfather child abuse, or the financial exploitation of young men as workers in the community abuse. Both illegal acts. The courts in the USA certainly found Jeffs guilty of flouting their laws.

The Pharisee said...

Jeffs has been convicted only of two counts of accomplice to rape. A rape for which the supposed rapist has not yet been tried. It's not, by the way, because Allen Steed is a fugitive. He testified at Warren's trial about 18 months ago, and no trial date for the principle, as opposed to the accessory has been set.

You need to know that I am an extremely "archaic" Christian. I believe in arranged marriages. You would probably choose to see that as "forcing" and as forcing young girls to marry old men. So be it, if that's the way you wish to interpret my stance.

I do believe that laws should be followed so if laws prevent "forcings" then I would not force. If laws prevent marriage at a certain age, I would not "suggest" marriage before that age.

It would probably surprise you to learn that "underage" marriages are being conducted and accomplished all the time, legally. For polygynists, the problem is simply that they cannot accomplish legal marriage. A monogamist can be married to a 13 year old girl, a man with one or more wives already, cannot.

jmb said...

Yes, Steed, a 19yr old, was ordered by his Bishop, a 44 year old to marry a 14yr old, cousin no less. Who is the more culpable in this instance? Not excusing Steed, by the way and I don't believe the charges have been dropped against him.

I do not believe that arranged marriages are part of the Christian doctrine nor in current mores for Christians.

An arranged marriage of course need not be forced if both parties are of legal age and after due consideration agree that is what they want to do. However the idea of arranged marriage does smack of others "knowing better" than the parties themselves.

How one can ever think that a man forty years older than a young girl is a suitable marital match is beyond me and the major part of society I'd wager.

A monogamist can be married to a 13 year old girl

Not under Canadian law, at 16 only with parental consent or under 16 only if pregnant (in some Provinces) or with a court decision. So yes it would surprise me to hear that in Canada underage marriages are being conducted and accomplished legally all the time.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

JMB, A good post on a difficult subject. More power to your elbow. Got your hard hat handy?

I do have to say, I'm with Dr John here. I figure we should be free to make whatever domestic arrangements that we choose.

I do think that a monogamous relationship works for most people better than others, and maybe has less potential for emotional stresses. I can also sort of see how two really best friends could have a relationship/marriage with the same guy.

My sticking point on anything is if it is effectively an abusive relationship. is it really voluntary? What choices are there? And, Yes I am well aware there are plenty of monogamous abusive relationships.

Any forced "relationship" is rape.

I don't like to stereotype here, but it does seem that it is usually misogynistic guys using some religious justification to oppress women. Institutionalising it. Does not matter what religion, I have posted on the abuses that apparently seem acceptable under Islam, this seems to be cut from the same cloth.

I think the alarm signal has got to be the word fundamentalist". No coincidence fundamentalist always has the word "mental" at its heart. I can't speak for the whole anglosphere but it has a certain meaning in the UK ^_^.

The Pharisee said...

No, the charges have not been dropped against Mr. Steed. They've tried to plea bargain him, and he's refused. There were a flurry of procedural issues that began to be addressed in pretrial motions last fall, and then the state dropped pursuit of the case altogether.

I can tell you precisely what they fear. They fear greatly that they will not convict Allen Steed. If they do not, the only charges for which Warren remains in jail will be stricken and he will be a man charged with a few crimes in Arizona, that may well not stick.

He will get released on bail and be a free man. That is what authorities in this country fear.

As far as younger people getting married, if it's pregnancy and parental permission that's necessary, I can promise you it has happened. If you force me to look to prove it, you aren't being honest about human nature.

lady macleod said...

Fascinating, thank you. We must look around under our very feet must we not, and not only out into the rest of the planet where "they" are doing horrid things.

When I was in Morocco I picked up a movie in one of my visits to "my DVD guy". I had never heard of it, but the actors were known to me and it was based on "actual historical events" which always interest me - "September Dawn". I was shocked! I had no idea the Mormons (not an indictment, just an observation) had such violence in their beginnings in America. The movie is worth viewing as well as following up on writings about the events.

C. said...

Pharisee: I don't think anyone really cares to understand your particular brand of cafeteria christianity and the disgusting things you want to justify with it. You still haven't answered jmb's questions about whether you consider the forced/coerced marriage of an underage female to a man old enough to be her grandfather child abuse, or the financial exploitation of young men as workers in the community abuse. Saying you would follow the law if they were illegal (and they are, by the way) is not the same thing.

You also don't know much about law if you think that Allen Steed's current case can any bearing on Warren Jeffs' case which has already been decided.

Moggs Tigerpaw: I used to think the same thing - if everyone's an adult, let them do what they like! However, after researching it more, I discovered how inherently abusive polygamy is toward women. Womens rights groups in Iran have protested against it and the way it tramples their rights and creates abusive situations. Canada needs to recognize that, by allowing it, we would be enabling men to legally set up seculded Little Irans in our country.

The Pharisee said...


I did answer the question, I believe in arranged marriage, parental permission and obeying the law. Whatever boundaries are defined by the confluence of those things, are where you will find me. Within those things are the freedoms I occupy and advocate. If that has a 60 year old man marrying a 14 year old girl, then so be it.

Warren's case is unique. He is deemed to have influenced Allen Steed's thinking so as to produce a situation where he raped Elissa Wall. Elissa's rape if it occurred depends on Allen disregarding her wishes on two occasions in an otherwise consensual sexual relationship. Basically, "No meant NO" and Allen, based on the statements of Warren, ignored that. Elissa is also thought by the jurors to have been somewhat deprived of her ability to vocalize "NO" due to Warren's influence.

Since this is not an overt planning of Rape, such as one might try to pull off a bank job so to speak, it depends on acting on a State of Mind. Warren teaches a teaching that results in a behavior that is rape.

If in fact the teaching of Warren, which amounted to no overt plan, results in no Rape, then Warren cannot be said to have served as an accomplice by omission (failing to emphasize Elissa's rights) to her rape. An act of omission is not an overt plan.

This will amount to the legitimate conviction, by law, of a man who is later said not to have been at the scene due to later discovered evidence or a DNA exoneration.

After such evidence is discovered, the man is still a convicted Felon. What does happen though is that judges, defense attorneys and usually prosecutors move to have a new trial, and then drop the charges.

When and if Allen is exonerated as he may very well be, the Crime that Warren will be said to have facilitated, not overtly planned, will cease to exist. He will have cleared the way to nothing. Allen has to act on Warren's teaching to the point that he Rapes Elissa, for their to be a crime to serve as accomplice to his principle.

Very few laws are written to account for this sort of bizarre and tenuous conviction. So yes, Warren will still be a felon. Do you care to wager with me what will happen if Allen Steed walks?

The reality is, in Warren's case, is that the various jurisdictions he is being tried in are desperately trying to convict him of as many things as possible so that if one conviction fails, he does not go free since he will be imprisoned on yet another charge. They wish to accomplish this before a previous conviction can be appealed. This is why Allen's trial is delayed, indefinitely. The prosecution in Utah is far from confident that he will be convicted.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I hope Canada gets it right and act to shut down this form of exploitation.

The Pharisee said...

You realize that prosecuting Oler and Blackmore successfully and then holding up that conviction all the way through a charter rights appeal makes an "affair" with a married person "bigamy" don't you?

C. said...

I feel bad for Steed because he had typical teenage hormones, no sex education, and was following orders from his so-called prophet. The case demonstrates how irresponsible it is for the FLDS to teach blind obedience. But my sympathy for him doesn't extend to excusing rape.

Pharisee, that's a lot of typing just to say you've imagine a ludicrous scenario where DNA evidence is discovered, years after the assaults occurred, to get Steed off the hook. It's so creepy that you're coming up with these ludicrous loopholes to excuse Warren Jeffs' crimes.

Upholding the laws against polygamy wouldn't make an affair with a married person "bigamy." That's like saying prostitution laws make one-night-stands illegal.

jmb said...

Moggs, I'm afraid I don't believe the domestic arrangements you consider acceptable really work in the long run, since jealousy is a powerful human emotion.

It seems that many of the wives in polygamous societies do not welcome the addition new ones, despite it being part of "their religious beliefs" or the beliefs of the community.

Pharisee, I am not arguing the legalities of Warren Jeffs' case which are governed by different laws, another country after all, although I did become well aware of that situation since reading this book and listening to Daphne Bramham.

Regarding the marriage laws in Canada, the minimum age for marriage in Canada,depending on the province, is either 18 or 19. In some provinces there can be exceptions, it can legal at 16 with parental consent, below 16 it is only for pregnancy or with court permission. I refer you to here .

Hi Lady Mac, yes the history of the Mormons is interesting. It is also interesting that they willing gave up their belief in polygamy (which it seems is based on one Old Testament incident)in exchange for monetary gains of statehood for Utah.

C, whoever you are, I too believe that Pharisee has not truly answered my question.

It does seem that polygamy is practised in situations where women do not have any power, where they are often considered second class citizens. So in the case of the FLDS, it is males advocating this in the name of religion but in practice only for the ones with the most power. For Winston Blackmore to have 26 wives, twenty five males do not have a wife, thus preventing their salvation, according to his beliefs. Not only that but the most powerful male in the FLDS community has the power to arrange all marriages.

This whole situation smacks of power to me, with no concern for the women and children in the society whatsoever. How can one be a good/responsible husband to 26 wives or a good/responsible father to over 100 children?

Again thanks to those who have commented here, whether they agree or not. Thank you for keeping the discussion civilized.

I think we have to agree to disagree on this subject, but the sentiments in the post, although based on what Daphne Bramham said in the talk and in her book, I wholeheartedly agree with. I do not believe that the situation in Bountiful allows basic human rights for all its individuals and that there exists at a very minimum an abuse of power and exploitation of young men and women in the name of religion. Finally the authorities will prosecute these two men, under the laws of this country which this community flouts openly. Whatever the result, I believe that Canadian society does not tolerate this situation and the laws may have to be redrafted to reflect that. But it will be a long process. This is but a beginning. We shall see.

The Pharisee said...

What you want me to do is set a hard and fast rule for something I believe there to be no hard and fast rule.

By concentrating on the extremes, really old men and very young girls, you seek to create a sort of situation about which everyone can hyperventilate, and in reality, will rarely ever occur.

I have two unmarried daughters. I seek a suitable husband for both. That is very very very hard to find. I can in THEORY conceive of having a 14 year old daughter, and a prospective husband in his 60's, but that is so rare an occurrence as to be almost discounted entirely. Neither of my daughters are now 14, they are both over 20 in fact. No one has appeared as a suitor for either that was not within 15 years of age of their own age. Most have been far closer and in fact the one that will probably work out is within 5 years of age, of my daughter.

This is a lot like the coat hanger abortion question. "Abortion Should Be Safe And Legal" shouts the pro choice proponent, pointing to deaths from coat hanger abortions as their justification. The fact is simply that few people died of that procedure as not many engaged in it, and frankly, if someone wants to drag race after dark with their car lights off, they get what they get anyway. I'm not going to try to save them from themselves.

There is no age standard set forth in the Judeo Christian tradition that most of our laws spring from. There certainly is no age standard in my religion. To concoct some ugly scenario designed to besmirch me for unsavory sexual proclivities is in truth, rude. This whole idea that girls aren't suitable for marriage at the age of 15 is a recent and cultural phenomenon and I'm not going to grant you, for one second, the idea that it represents something perverted to say that young women may marry.

I've stated that I will follow the law, but you ask me for a standard where I believe the only standards are either arbitrary, or situational.

jmb said...

Pharisee, I don't believe I or any commenter here has been rude to you.

That ugly scenario, your words, not mine, although I do not find it acceptable, is not concocted. It occurred in Bountiful and has done so on more than a few occasions and in other FLDS communities as well.

You are correct that the minimum acceptable age for marriage has changed over the centuries and our current laws for minimum age reflect our society's current way of thinking on the matter. You may note in the link I provided that Quebec raised the minimum age for marriage in very recent times to reflect that.

I do believe our exchange on this topic has exhausted itself and it is beginning to lead in other directions which are not pertinent to the post.

Thank you for your comments and putting your point of view but I will not be debating further with you as real life calls.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

JMB and also C, I agree. You are repeating my exact point about polygamy back to me as if I were promoting it.

I do think the state has no business telling anyone they couldn't though if they did want to. Though I think it mostly serves lecherous authoritarian men. I do see that it might occasionally offer sisterly support under some circumstances.

The system should be able to mostly prevent/discourage abusive relationships without laying down what domestic arrangements sane consenting adults are permitted to have.

It is not so long ago that "Living in sin" was viewed as badly. Now intelligent professional people do it with no stigma.

I do fear that by withholding marriage rights, or refusing to recognise them, for women who are in such relationships, the state deliberately places them in a weak/inferior position concerning their rights and leaves them more vulnerable in order to make a moral, or religious, point.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

PS. I think a good way to deal with the question might be to ensure that the women have a strong hand to guard themselves and their children.

Strong enough that any exploitative male thinks very very hard about risking involving himself in such a situation.

Liz said...

That is appalling! And going on in a little part of beautiful BC? I hope - I was going to say justice prevails but it's far more than justice that is needed.

The Pharisee said...

Far more than justice needed? Who would you appeal to for that? The best human beings can hope for is justice. Can you call down God to mediate this?