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. 

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