Bountiful is a small rural community in the Kootenay region of southern British Columbia, near the town of Creston. It lies in a sleepy, peaceful, incredibly lush agricultural area, nestled in a ring of sheltering mountain peaks. Nothing much happens in Bountiful, ever. So what has caused this little Canadian backwater to be at the center of a court case presently underway in downtown Vancouver, with 33 black-robed lawyers in attendance representing the provincial and federal governments, and dozens of advocates arguing various social issues?
Bountiful is a polygamist community.
It was founded more than half a century ago by Mormons from Utah looking to escape scrutiny of their plural marriage doctrine. The Canadian community has close ties with Warren Jeffs, currently serving ten years to life in Utah State Prison for his participation in this fundamentalist Mormon practice. And Bountiful is now the focal point of a court case that is testing Canada’s marriage laws as well as its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case began on November 22 and is expected to run until the end of January, at which point any ruling will likely be appealed to Canda’s Supreme Court.
This reference case was initiated by British Columbia’s Attorney General, Mike de Jong, to establish a “legal lens” through which to determine and regulate the issue of polygamy. Crown counsel Craig Jones, arguing for the AG, holds that the societal harms and risks of polygamy, particularly to minor children, override the charter of rights and freedoms, including freedom of religion, association, and expression.
Those arguing in favor of polygamy claim the right of all citizens to religious freedom and freedom of sexual expression between consenting adults. Some observers feel the polygamists’ case is strengthened by the fact that same-sex marriage is now fully legal in all Canadian provinces and territories. If the Chief Justice hearing the case can be persuaded to agree with the polygamy supporters and the Supreme Court upholds his decision, Canada may be on its way to scrapping its 150-year-old ban and becoming the first developed nation to legalize polygamy…ironically, at a time when developing countries in Asia and Africa are moving toward criminalization of multiple marriage. However, even a favorable decision by the Supreme Court could still be set aside by an act of parliament.