November 27, 2005

Feds are playing polygamist politics

By Mindelle Jacobs

Justice and immigration officials should have cracked down on polygamy years ago because of the incalculable harm suffered by women and children at the hands of vain, dictatorial men.

Instead, the authorities turned a blind eye to the trafficking of young women - some of them underage - back and forth across the border, and women and children have continued to be victimized in Bountiful, B.C.'s polygamous community.

Perhaps because criticism of government inaction has been growing, Immigration Canada recently denied an application by one of Bountiful's plural wives for permanent residence status.

A decade ago, Edith Barlow reportedly moved to Canada from the U.S. to take her place as yet another wife for Winston Blackmore, leader of the Bountiful polygamous sect.

Over the years, Barlow, 28, has had five children. Immigration Canada should have booted her out 10 years ago if they wanted to emphasize that they were opposed to polygamy.

Inexplicably, they waited until now to order her out of the country. Normally, people apply for permanent residence status from outside Canada. But Barlow applied from within Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Immigration Canada has denied her application and, since her visitor visa has expired, has ordered her out of the country.

Way to go, Ottawa! It extended Barlow's visitor's visa for years, knowing exactly what she was up to, and then swooped down on her years later to tear her life apart.

To be fair, Barlow's life was probably destroyed long before, since she grew up in a polygamous community in the U.S. But Immigration Canada has really mucked it up now.

If she's deported, what will happen to her kids? Will Blackmore even allow her to take them back to the U.S.? Does the government care?

The decision to reject Barlow's application is curious, since three of Blackmore's other wives were granted permanent residence status in the early 1990s, says former Bountiful resident Debbie Palmer.

By letting in those women, the Canadian authorities gave an "unspoken stamp of approval" to polygamy and now they're playing politics at Barlow's expense, she charges.

"I think that Immigration Canada is trying to get off the hot seat by changing their stance on this and using Edith Barlow as as an example," she says.

At this point, the authorities should let Barlow remain in Canada, she says.

"For Immigration Canada to make a statement against polygamy, they're going to have to do it a different way than this," she adds.

For privacy reasons, officials can't talk about Barlow's case. Speaking generally, Immigration Canada, spokesman Lois Reimer says people are expected to apply from outside the country.

"We're not saying you can't be a permanent resident. We're just saying apply like everybody else does," she says.

Barlow may be afraid that if she leaves Canada her application will be rejected anyway, however. And that could leave her in the clutches of the volatile U.S. polygamous community, says Palmer.

Calgary-based social justice lawyer Vaughn Marshall believes that the authorities would have cut Barlow some slack if she wasn't a Bountiful member.

"The case speaks out for a little bit of compassionate understanding," he says. "If something was going to be done, it ought to have been done before she came up here and ... had Canadian kids."

In this case, we need to set aside our distaste for polygamy in favour of human rights, Marshall says.

But University of Alberta sociologist Stephen Kent argues that the government shouldn't let Barlow remain.

"Allowing her to stay becomes a way that the federal government would be tacitly facilitating polygamy in this country," he says.

"It's just going to occur again and again."