Local trustee wants school closed

By Rebecca Roberts

Thursday, June 24, 2004

School Trustee Bob Haslett is not afraid to stick his nose in other people's business, as long as it means saving children from abuse, whether that be in this area's school districts or in another.

After reading stories in The Vancouver Sun about a school in the Kootenay community of Bountiful, where children are reported to be sexually exploited, Haslett decided he needed to do something about it.

"I've been around for 20 years as a school trustee now and I've seen a lot of things happen in British Columbia with regards to education but I've never seen anything this brutal," Haslett says.

At the latest School District No. 54 meeting, he put forward a motion that the district write letters to three provincial ministries and to all school boards to garner support to put an end to the pubic funding of this school.

The school in Bountiful is run by a sect of Mormons who call themselves the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Media reports say the school received over $600,000 in public funding for the 2002-03 school year and over $400,000 in public funding for the 2003-04 school year.

One of Haslett's main concerns is that the school, which teaches Kindergarten to Grade 12, has never graduated a student.

"If that happened at any public school district in British Columbia we would have the board replaced instantly," he says.

"If those people are not completing their curriculum to the standard of the Dogwood certificate, then they have absolutely no right to receive funding whatsoever."

A number of women have escaped from Bountiful, where they say girls as young as 14 are married to men as much as 40 years older than them, and are willing to testify about the illegal polygamy that goes on there. One of the Mormon leaders in Bountiful, Winston Blackmore, is reported to have 27 wives and nearly 100 children.

Community leaders in Bountiful contend that polygamy, the practice of having more than one spouse, is part of their religion and their freedom to practise it is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

So far the Crown hasn't prosecuted, though investigating RCMP officers have recommended that charges be laid.

Haslett says he doesn't understand why the school has not been shut down.

He says there are three provincial ministries that should get involved. The Ministry of Children and Families should get involved to stop the child abuse. While the Ministry of the Attorney General should get involved because polygamy is not legal in Canada, regardless of religious freedom.

"(The girls) are basically being concubines. That's not religious freedom. To me, that's abuse. That's all there is to it," he says.

He also says the Ministry of Education should be involved because children are not completing their education, often beyond Grade 7 or 8.

Haslett says the government has acknowledged that these problems exist.

"They've acknowledged that these problems exist but they don't feel like they have a right to intervene," he says.

"My response to that is, you know, we've got Canadian soldiers serving time in Taliban-controlled (regions) in Afghanistan, because we simply didn't agree with the way they treated people, religious freedom or not."

Haslett says he's also concerned because this is widespread problem than many people think.

"One school trustee from Quesnel told me that they had been up in the Peace River and there had been a commune up there and it was basically the same thing as they are talking about in the community of Bountiful. (The children) were taken out of school at a very young age to become farm workers."

"To me that's ludicrous. That's criminal."

Haslett hopes that public outrage and pressure from public school districts will cause the government to take action. But he says if nothing happens by the fall he will bring the matter to the B.C. School Trustees Association annual meeting, at which time he hopes more people will get involved.

The Interior News