Religious, childrens, civil rights groups apply to intervene in BC polygamy case

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VANCOUVER - Several groups, including a children's rights group, are hoping the B.C. Supreme Court will consider their opinions in an unusual legal test case aimed at clarifying whether or not polygamy is a crime.
The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children and the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which supports multiple marriage, are among 16 groups and individuals wanting to provide their input to the B.C. Supreme Court when it weighs the legality of the federal polygamy law.
B.C.'s attorney general launched the constitutional reference case after polygamy charges were dropped last October against the two leaders of a polygamous sect in the community of Bountiful, B.C.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who lead two separate factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, no longer face criminal charges but they have also applied to intervene in the case.
Blackmore, who's been accused of having 19 wives, says the law violates his charter right to religious freedom.
The Canadian Association for Free Expression is also seeking status in the case, as well as the B.C. Teachers' Federation, whose concerns revolve around two provincially-funded schools in Bountiful it alleges subjects students to sexual and educational abuse.
Others who submitted applications to intervene to the court by a Thursday deadline include the Christian Legal Fellowship, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, the Knights of Columbus, B.C. and Yukon Chapter, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, and REAL Women of Canada.
Nancy Mereska, who founded the group Stop Polygamy in Canada following her own experience as a young and abused Mormon wife, has applied as well.
Bountiful has been the subject of RCMP investigations since 1990, not only because members of the community openly flout the federal law barring multiple marriages, but due also to allegations that teenage girls have been married to middle-aged men or sent to the United States to marry older men in sister sects.
The province appointed a special prosecutor to review the possibility of charges, and that special prosecutor recommended against it, recommending instead a reference case to determine whether the law would withstand a constitutional challenge.
Former attorney general Wally Oppal then appointed a second special prosecutor who did recommend charges, but the B.C. Supreme Court ruled Oppal didn't have the jurisdiction to do so, and dismissed the charges.
Current Attorney General Mike de Jong then launched the court reference case, rather than appeal.
The court will consider two questions: First, is section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which bars polygamy, consistent with the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
And second, what role does the law have in governing relationships between both consenting adults and relationships with people who are not yet adults?
Chief Justice Robert Bauman has yet to review the applications for intervener status, and no court dates have been set.

Organizations: B.C. Supreme Court, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association Mormon church Canadian Association B.C. Teachers B.C. Civil Liberties Association David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights Catholic Organization for Life Knights of Columbus Legal Education and Action Fund RCMP

Geographic location: Bountiful, VANCOUVER, Canada United States

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