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B.C. 'could face suit over commune school'

Lawyer says he is investigating Bountiful classes

Matthew Ramsey

The Province

June 14, 2004

A lawyer says B.C. will be a "sitting duck" for a civil suit if it has failed to ensure children at the Bountiful polygamous commune are getting a decent education.

Vaughn Marshall said he is investigating whether the Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School offers an education that stands up to B.C's legal and curriculum requirements.

"There is a fairly decent chance that litigation will follow if circumstances warrant," said Marshall, a Calgary lawyer who specializes in cases where clients have been abused by large organizations.

He was in Edmonton at the weekend to speak at a conference on cults.

He said many of the students at the school on the commune near Lister in the Kootenays are not getting the education they need should they choose to escape the cult.

With a poor education, they are more likely to remain trapped in it because they know nothing else.

"They're not taught much about the outside world," Marshall said.

"If the facts of the [ suit] investigation come out along the lines I believe they will, it seems to me the government should have known. They knew, or ought to have known, that a proper education could not have been followed."

Bountiful school falls under the Independent School Act and Education Minister Tom Christensen has said there is no evidence from inspections that the school is not following the act. "There's no indication they're not delivering a sound education," Christensen said.

Former Bountiful resident Debbie Palmer told the cult conference that girls are routinely pulled out of school at a young age to learn domestic chores in preparation for marriage.

Palmer fled the commune in 1988 at age 15 after she became the sixth wife of a man in his 50s. He was her third husband. She now lives in Prince Albert, Sask. with her eight children.

Six women, two of whom escaped the commune, have filed a 4omplaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal asking for a public hearing into the treatment of women and children at Bountiful.

Complainant Jancis Andrews, a Sechelt -based women's-rights advocate, alleged the provincially funded school is teaching a "sexist and racist curriculum.'

Education Ministry spokesperson Corinna Fillion has said inspectors in 2003 "examined all curriculum materials, but could find no evidence of teaching of racial superiority.'

(c) The Vancouver Province 2004