Sep 26, 2007

Authorities urged to investigate polygamy cases

CTV News

September 26, 2007

A Canadian woman who said she escaped a polygamous group is hoping the conviction of Warren Jeffs in Utah will urge Canadian authorities to pursue similar cases.

Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous Mormon splinter group, was convicted Tuesday of being an accomplice to rape, for performing a wedding between a 19-year-old man and a 14-year old girl.

"I think that it's time that something like this happened," Debbie Palmer told CTV's Canada AM. "This is the first time in North America. It's the first time anywhere that a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist prophet has been prosecuted and then found guilty for any crimes."

Palmer is hoping the conviction will urge Canadian authorities to revisit their information on polygamous communities.

"I hope this case will help our Attorney General's office and our Crown prosecutors in Canada take further attention," Palmer said.

Palmer was assigned to marry 57-year-old Ray Blackmore when she was 15 years old in Bountiful, B.C., but she left before that happened.

The Mormon Church excommunicates members who practise polygamy. Members of the Bountiful community are a part of a breakaway sect that believes men must marry as many women as possible in order to reach heaven.

The polygamous community is split, with some people supporting Jeffs while others back Bountiful bishop Winston Blackmore.

Palmer, who met Jeffs before he came to prominence, said she has half-brothers who are enforcers in the community.

Polygamy is illegal in Canada, yet charges have not been laid against anyone in Bountiful, B.C.

Earlier this month, B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal ordered a review into whether to lay criminal charges can be laid against members of the colony in Bountiful.

The case is being reviewed by lawyer Leonard Doust and a decision is expected in the next few weeks.

In August, special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded that there was not enough evidence to charge members of a breakaway Mormon sect with any sexual offences.

The RCMP had initially recommended charges against members of the colony in Bountiful in 1990. But legal opinions that the polygamy ban would be struck down as an infringement on religious freedom meant that no charges were laid. The RCMP also recommended sexual exploitation charges against the colony in Bountiful in 2006. 

Sep 19, 2007

Australia says no chance of Beijing Olympics boycott


September 19, 2007

SYDNEY (AFP) — Australia on Wednesday ruled out boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympics over China's human rights record.

Sports Minister George Brandis said Australia would attend the Games, despite allegations from the Falun Gong spiritual movement that Beijing is involved in "harvesting" the organs of jailed members and other dissidents.

Brandis said Australia would not boycott the Games even if the allegations were proven.

"The Australian government isn't making a link between the two issues," Brandis told parliament.

"There's no issue about Australia's participation in the Beijing Olympics being reconsidered."

The minister said there were other ways for Australia to address human rights issues with China, although he did not specify what they were.

China last month overtook Japan as Australia's number one trading partner, with two-way trade between the countries exceeding 40 billion US dollars as Chinese demand for Australian resources continues to boom.

China outlawed Falun Gong, which combines meditation with Buddhist-inspired teachings, as an "evil cult" in mid-1999.

Since then the group, which claims to have more than 100 million followers worldwide, has campaigned from abroad against what they claim is brutal persecution of their followers in China.

Earlier this year, Canada's former secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific, David Kilgour, and human rights lawyer David Matas released a report saying the Chinese military were harvesting and selling the organs of executed prisoners.

China denied the claims, saying organ transplants were strictly controlled. 

Sep 8, 2007

B.C. attorney general again reviews decision not to lay polygamy charges

Canadian Press
September 8, 2007

VANCOUVER (CP) — Yet another review has been ordered on whether criminal charges can be laid against members of a B.C. polygamist colony.

This time, high-profile lawyer Leonard Doust is being asked to review a report that concluded there wasn't enough evidence to charge members at the breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C., with sexual offences.

Special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded in a report released in August that the provincial government should ask the court to rule on the constitutional validity of Canada's laws against polygamy.

Peck said a reference to the court would avoid a lengthy criminal trial in which the defendants would likely claim religious freedom and where getting witnesses to testify could be extraordinarily difficult.

"Peck looked at it from one particular angle as to the reference part, not necessarily from the perspective of whether we should lay charges and let the defence raise (the constitutionality), and I've always sort of felt that way about it," said Attorney General Wally Oppal, a former judge, in an interview.

"I just want to cover all bases. We just want to be cautious before we do those things."

Peck's report itself was a review of past recommendations by other Crown lawyers over the years who concluded the government was at risk of losing any trial on polygamy charges. They said the defence would simply assert that the law banning the practice was illegal under the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights.

Critics of Bountiful have repeatedly complained the government is doing nothing but studying the question while women are exploited.

"Why now do you have to hire another high-profile lawyer? How much is being spent on this that could actually be spent in the courts prosecuting these polygamists?" asked Nancy Mereska, who runs the Stop Polygamy Coalition.

Though she said it's good to know the government is considering laying charges, the delay is frustrating.

"I see it as another delay tactic so that one person doesn't have to take the responsibility," she said. "They are elected to that position to take this responsibility. Why does he want to lay it on the shoulders of other people?"

Peck had also looked at whether members of the community could be charged with sexual offences, which was seen by many as another legal avenue available to the government to try to stop young women from being forced to marry older men.

Peck concluded it wasn't an option, and that a constitutional reference question was likely the only way for the government to proceed.

"Peck has offered us a route that is conservative and he thinks it's a good clean conservative way to go and there is some merit to that suggestion." Oppal said.

"I am a little more aggressive on this."

Doust is being asked to review the case and other factors Peck considered in coming to that conclusion.

Oppal said he also wasn't comfortable with the idea of putting the question before the courts.

"Courts often don't like giving opinions on these things," he said. "They say why should we give an opinion in a vacuum when there is no charge against us."

If Doust concludes a prosecution meets the criminal justice branch's charge approval policy, Oppal has asked that Doust conduct the prosecution.

He said he didn't expect Doust's report to take long because no new information will be gathered.

Peck declined to comment on the ministry's decision when contacted by phone on Friday.

Members of the colony, located in southeastern B.C., belong to a breakaway sect of the Mormon church and believe that in order to get into heaven, men must marry as many women as possible.

Charges against members of the colony were recommended by RCMP as far back as 1990.

The Crown decided not to proceed based on legal opinions that the polygamy ban would be struck down as an infringement on religious freedom.

In 2006, the RCMP again recommended charges, this time under the sexual exploitation provision of the code, which prohibits an adult from having sex with someone between age 14 and 18 when the adult is in a position of authority .

Again, the Crown concluded a conviction was unlikely.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church, renounced polygamy in 1890 and the Bountiful group broke away from it. The Mormon Church excommunicates members who practise polygamy.

New Democrat Opposition critic Leonard Krog said Oppal was missing the point.

"While the issue of polygamy is important, what is much more important is the protection of children. And the Attorney General's decision to restrict the terms of review to polygamy gives the wrong message," said Krog. "The women and children of Bountiful have waited a long time for justice. The time for action is now." 

Sep 6, 2007

Attleboro cultist who starved son to death wants new trial

Dave Wedge
Boston Herald

September 6, 2007

A baby-killing Attleboro cultist wants his life sentence tossed out, claiming he was brainwashed by the sicko sect and misled to believe he could resurrect his son from the dead.

Jacques Robidoux, who is serving life for the 1999 starvation death of his infant son Samuel, “believed that no harm would come to his child if his food was restricted, and if harm did come to his child, that he could bring the child back to life,” his attorney, Janet Pumphrey, argues in a pleading set to go before the state Supreme Judicial Court today.

Pumphrey is asking the SJC for a new trial, claiming Robidoux should have pursued an insanity defense because he was the victim of “mind control” and “extreme coercion” at the hands of the cult, which was led by his late father, Roland Robidoux.

“At no time did he believe that withholding solid food from Samuel was wrong; rather, he believed it was what God told him to do,” Pumphrey argues. “Everyone in the cult believed that God’s law was higher than man’s law and they followed God’s law.”

But special prosecutor Sharon Sullivan-Puccini said Robidoux rejected an insanity defense because he believed a psychological evaluation clashed with the sect’s belief that doctors are tools of Satan. She also noted that he took the stand at trial and “took full responsibility” for the murder.

Jacques Robidoux, 34, and his wife, Karen, starved the toddler to death after a twisted prophecy delivered by Jacques’ sister instructed them to feed the boy only breast milk, even though he had already been eating solid food.

Karen Robidoux successfully used a battered women’s defense, arguing that she, too, was victimized by the sect’s heavy-handed ways. She was cleared of second-degree murder. No other members were charged.

Bob Pardon, a cult expert who has studied the Attleboro group extensively, said Jacques Robidoux was scapegoated in the case and “took the fall” for his iron-fisted dad.

“The wrong person was convicted. His father was calling the shots,” said Pardon, who has visited Robidoux in jail several times. “Jacques was under undue influence. I don’t think he got the sentence he deserved. He deserves a second shot.”