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Religious freedom or harem for bad
What in the name of
tolerance are we doing in Canada? Most thinking people can't countenance the
notion that old men -- so-called religious leaders -- keep harems of women,
including teens, for the purpose of breeding a pure stock.
Yet for 50 years,
politicians, bureaucrats and law enforcement officials here haven't seen it
that way when it comes to the polygamist community of Bountiful in
southeastern British Columbia.
For the past two
decades, B.C. lawmakers and enforcement agencies have fallen back on the
excuse that leaders of
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints cannot be prosecuted for the
Criminal Code offence of polygamy because the Canadian Charter of Rights
guarantees religious freedom.
In doing so, they've
ignored evidence provided by former concubines on religious leaders who have
as many as 80 wives, about alleged sexual exploitation of child
"brides'' by "husbands'' two and three times their age.
One of the primary reasons
most thinking people supported Canada's intervention in Afghanistan was due
to outrage over the Taliban's use of Islamic or
law to suppress, abuse and subjugate women and girls.
Yet, the Ontario
government last fall agreed that
used to settle marriage, family and business disputes within Muslim
communities. That's something that the government of Malaysia has
consistently resisted even though Islam is the state religion there.
In our desire to accept
different cultures and religions, we are endangering the very freedoms that
our constitution was designed to protect.
In our overriding quest
for tolerance, we have stopped asking and answering a fundamental question:
When does culture stop being culture and start being abuse?
One can only imagine
what glee can be had by the
Day Saints and Islamic leaders -- exclusively men -- when they can use the
national charter to deny equality for women and girls all in the name of
freedom. They must especially bask in the irony that it was women's groups
who were some of the strongest and most vocal proponents of the charter's
inclusion in the constitution in 1982.
Muslim women in Ontario
have been ready to note that they didn't come from countries like Iran, Iraq,
Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia just to have those systems foisted upon them
They chose Canada so
they could escape the religious decrees on what they can wear, whom they can
befriend, marry or even divorce, and where and how they can travel.
They came here because
they sought more possibilities and more choices. They wanted the freedom to
choose -- including the freedom to follow Islam or reject it entirely.
, who heads the
International Campaign to Stop
Canada, fears that even limited use of
endanger the rights of women and approving its use will encourage other
for immigrant women in Toronto, told the Toronto Star that even without
, many Muslim women don't dare report being
battered by their husbands.
Bigamy also often
occurs. Among her clients are two 14-year-old girls who were married last
year to older men, defying Ontario law which prohibits marriages of anyone
under age 16 or which are polygamous, a Criminal Code offense.
And while immigrant
women may come here because Canada provides equal rights, it's questionable
whether the Canadian-born women and girls of Bountiful are even aware of
their charter rights.
control education for them by dictating both schools in Bountiful -- one of
which received $460,826 in government grants last year.
The schools reinforce
Latter Day Saints teachings. Most
astounding among them is that any boy over the age of 12 can belong to the
priesthood, which grants them control over the most basic decisions over
women and girls -- such as what they wear, who they can marry and what they
should do with their lives.
Even though all B.C.
students are given the chance to hold different jobs by taking part in the
mandatory career and personal planning program, that doesn't happen at
Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School.
In 2002, education
ministry inspectors reported that
were only allowed to "prepare, cater and clean up after a meal'' and
engage in "sewing and other types of handiwork or needlework.''
Despite that appalling
find, the ministry continues to fund the school under its Independent Schools
If we needed an outside
perspective on Bountiful and what's being allowed to happen there, we finally
got one this week in the Economist magazine.
"They like to think
they do a good job protecting women's rights and fighting pedophilia.
Canadians would not be so smug if they knew of the dirty little secret in the
Creston Valley, in southeastern British Columbia,'' it says.
"For half a
century, a hotbed of polygamy has quietly flourished there in a commune
Canada's charter was
never drafted to protect the rights of autocratic religious leaders or to
deny equality and freedom to others. It's time that our political leaders
recognize that and act accordingly.