Jul 23, 2017

Daphne Bramham: Bountiful's victims deserve compensation

Warren Jeffs with on of the child brides he was convicted of raping in Texas. Photo was submitted at his trial
DAPHNE BRAMHAM
Vancouver sun
July 17, 2017

Nearly a decade ago, a B.C. government social worker got a fax from Texas child protective services outlining how a 13-year-old girl from the fundamentalist Mormon community had been illegally taken by her parents to the United State to marry their church’s prophet.

That fax also included details about two 12-year-old girls from Bountiful who had been taken by their parents in 2005 to marry Warren Jeffs, who by then was a fugitive wanted on charges of sexually abusing under-aged girls.

That 2008 fax from a Texas official quoted from the same documents that were instrumental in the February conviction of the 13-year-olds’ parents, Brandon and Gail Blackmore.

For their crime committed in 2004, the Blackmores will finally be punished. Their sentencing is in August.

But the B.C. government needs to explain what — if anything — has been done to plug the gaping holes in the system that abandoned three vulnerable teens to their fate in a foreign country where they had no immigration papers, no access to education or social services and no way to come home even if they wanted.

It is a mystery why the 2008 fax with all that valuable information never made it up the chain in either the ministry of child and family development or to the attorney general’s office.

By 2008, there had been a great deal of reporting on sexual abuse allegations against polygamous leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints both in Bountiful and its sister communities in the United States.

That fax did surface in 2011. Lawyers for the B.C. attorney general’s ministry found it near the end of the constitutional reference case and had it admitted as evidence.

But, apparently, the Creston-based social worker never thought it was important enough to follow up on the information. She apparently never insisted that something be done either to retrieve the three minors from Texas or that the information be passed to RCMP who had been investigating Bountiful off and on since the early 1990s.

What, if anything, was done or will be done to hold government officials for their failure to do fulfil their legal — if not moral duty — to protect those vulnerable girls?

But beyond that and in light of the $10.5-million settlement paid by the federal government to child soldier Omar Khadr, there may be strong case to be made that these three young women deserve compensation for the B.C. government’s negligence and consequent violation of their human rights.

Unlike Khadr, there is no argument that they have done anything wrong. Their only ‘sin’ was to have been born to parents who exchanged reason and compassion for blind devotion to an increasingly erratic and perverted prophet.

There can be no debate over their professed willingness or unwillingness to become one of Jeffs’ 80-some ‘spiritual’ wives. So far, none has ever had the opportunity to say anything at all because until recently, nobody even knew where any of them were. It was only shortly before the Blackmores’ trial that their now 25-year-old daughter was discovered living in Bountiful with her mother.

Some of Jeffs’ other wives remain missing. Police believe they are being hidden and guarded in safe houses across the western United States and, perhaps, even Canada. Although their stories have been known since 2008, no one stepped up even six years ago after it became public that the government had abandoned them.

Partly it’s because they remain elusive. Not only have they been difficult to physically locate, the names of at least two of them are protected by court-ordered publication bans.

At this point, it’s possible — and even highly likely — that even if compensation might allow them to piece together some sort of a life in the world beyond Jeffs’ harem that these young women would reject any outsiders’ offers of help.

Half a dozen former FLDS members testified at the Blackmores’ trial, explaining how the government’s overriding concern about respecting religious freedom provided cover for religious leaders to curtail individual rights.

Even though the B.C. government funded and inspected their independent schools, they testified to having unwillingly had their education cut short by marriage or to go to work.

Some talked about how despite being Canadian citizens, their limited knowledge and limited contact with outsiders had nearly paralyzed them with fear about how they would cope beyond the borders of the patriarchal and autocratic community.

The three young women are not the only victims of the government’s negligence. But they are the most extreme products of it.

They have no real connection either to the country that they were born in or to the country that they find themselves in. They are profoundly stateless.

dbramham@postmedia.com
Twitter: @daphnebramham

http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/daphne-bramham-bountifuls-victims-deserve-compensation

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