Oct 7, 2015

Daphne Bramham: Conservatives, polygamy and cultural relativism

October 4, 2015

Polygamist Winston Blackmore, shown in 2012, has at least 24 wives and 141 children. The Conservatives say they are committed to ending misogynistic practices, yet they have given little thought or attention to what goes on in Bountiful, B.C.
Polygamist Winston Blackmore
The Conservatives want to stop barbaric practices like polygamy, forced marriages, so-called honour killings and female genital mutilation.

Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch said last week that if re-elected, the Conservatives will spend $12 million over four years to prevent child and forced marriage in war zones and establish an RCMP tip line that citizens and victims can call to report incidents of “barbaric cultural practices.”

Separately, Jason Kenney described barbaric practices as “a misogynistic view of women, which is grounded in medieval tribal culture.”

The Conservatives deny that in the midst of an election campaign, announcements like these and statements about the wearing of niqabs fan anti-Islamic sentiments or are being used as a wedge issue.

But the commitment to ending misogynistic practices might be more believable if the three of them — or any Conservative — had ever given a moment’s thought or attention to what goes on in Bountiful, B.C.

There, under the banner of fundamentalist Mormonism, homegrown Canadians have openly practised polygamy for 70 years, allowed child marriages, forced girls and young women into marriage and — for much of that time — generations of women and girls have been forced by their prophet, their fathers and their husbands to wear long, pioneer dresses and style their hair with a mighty swoop in the front.

In a news release, Alexander noted that since 2013 the Conservative government has “committed more than $60 million in support to prevent child and forced marriage in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.”

He noted that consular services are available 24 hours a day to Canadians overseas who are victims of forced marriage and that a 2013 report by Toronto’s South Asian Legal Clinic documented 219 real or suspected cases of forced marriage between 2010 and 2012.

But, why no reference to the long-standing reports of forced marriages and child brides in Bountiful? And, why has there never been any money committed to preventing and investigating those forced marriages or any money provided to help the victims in Bountiful?

Earlier this year, the Conservative government passed the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which makes it illegal for anyone under 16 to get married, blocks anyone in a polygamist relationship from immigrating to Canada and prevents the removal of children from Canada to marry.

But it’s not clear that any additional money has been spent or committed to stop or prosecute fundamentalist Mormon men from transporting their daughters, sisters or child brides across the U.S.-Canada border either since the act’s passage or after the child sex trafficking law was passed.

And, what about polygamy itself?

For all the Conservatives’ tough talk about tribal practices, they somehow always fail to mention that Bountiful sect leader Winston Blackmore is one of the world’s busiest polygamists. It was only last year that Blackmore was charged with one count of polygamy. He has yet to go to trial.

Just for fun, let’s put Blackmore into a global context.

The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud — a Muslim — only had “about 30 wives” and “more than 35 children.” South African President Jacob Zuma follows “customary law” and only has four wives and 20 children.

Blackmore has had at least 24 wives and has managed a rare milestone: He now has 141 children, making him and his family almost certainly the biggest beneficiaries of the Conservatives’ Universal Child Care Benefit.

And while he doesn’t like to talk numbers, Blackmore has admitted in television interviews and under oath on at least two occasions that several of his more than 24 wives were under the age of 18.

The Conservatives have accused the other parties of “cultural relativism” for not supporting its opposition to women wearing the niqab and for opposing its Zero Tolerance Against Barbaric Practices Act.

The Conservatives claim they are “not afraid to defend Canadian values and protect women in Canada and overseas from these heinous crimes.”

That might come as welcome news to the girls and young women in Bountiful if there was any indication that the Conservatives didn’t have cultural blind spots of their own.




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