-- For the
Canada is known throughout the
world for upholding equality rights but we've got a dirty little secret in our
own backyard: We turn a blind eye to polygamy.
If 17-year-old Stephanie Palmer
was still living in the Mormon fundamentalist commune of Bountiful, near
Creston, B.C., her life would no longer be her own.
"I'd definitely be married
now with at least two children and another on the way," she says.
Thanks to her mother Debbie's
courage, however, she's living life as a normal teenager in Prince Albert,
Sask. Debbie, who grew up in the polygamous sect and was married off at age 15
to the first of three husbands, fled the commune in 1988 with her eight
"Everyone is always
surprised and shocked that (forced polygamy) is happening in a free
country," says Stephanie. "Every time I think about it, I'm just glad
my mother left."
Many others aren't so lucky,
delegates at a conference on cults at the University of Alberta heard
yesterday. The event, which continues over the weekend, is co-sponsored by the
American Family Foundation and the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse.
Stephanie has more than 100
step-siblings in Bountiful. Her mother had five "sister" wives during
her first marriage, four "sister" wives during her second and two
during her third.
Debbie herself has 48 brothers
and sisters. At least she escaped with all her kids. Her younger sister, Jane,
who was one of former commune leader Winston
many wives, left with one of her children two years ago.
But she had to leave her other
six kids behind.
Bountiful teens are being pulled
out of school and the girls are married off at early ages to much older men who
already have numerous wives.
And the authorities haven't
lifted a finger to help, says Debbie.
"It's a very alarming and
disturbing situation," she told delegates after relating her story.
"It doesn't seem to be getting better."
Polygamy is illegal in Canada,
of course. The problem is getting the police to do anything about it, says
Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall, who also spoke at the conference.
The authorities are reluctant to
get involved for two reasons, he says. The B.C. government believes the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms could provide a plausible
for polygamy, says Marshall.
Secondly, the commune members
contribute to the area economy and don't bother anyone.
The B.C. Attorney General's
Office doesn't have the "heart" to prosecute them, Marshall suggests.
"I think the citizens of
British Columbia ought to be outraged," he told me. "The fact is,
this is a women's rights issue."
If the police won't prosecute,
lawsuits are the way to go, he says, adding that "the last bastion"
of justice is civil court.
"The province of British
Columbia is a sitting duck and they should be," declares Marshall.
B.C. could be sued for depriving
the Bountiful kids of education, he argues.
"The only tool people from
fringe communities ... have to make their way in life later is an
education," he says. "It almost guarantees their continued servitude
for as long as they live if they don't get an education."
Marshall also holds out hope for
women who've escaped polygamous cults and are fighting for sole custody of
Evidence of polygamy would be
enough for a judge to deny a father custody and even access to kids, he says.
The B.C. authorities have
considered polygamy a "victimless crime" for too long, says Debbie.
to be sued," she says. "It's government-sanctioned trafficking of
children and using them for sexual and breeding purposes.
The Edmonton Sun