NEWS

Bountiful B.C. Polygamy Case: New Prosecutor To Be Appointed After Original Lawyer Steps Down

01/09/2012 03:17 EST | Updated 03/10/2012 05:12 EST
CP
VANCOUVER - A new special prosecutor will be appointed to review allegations involving the religious commune of Bountiful, B.C., as the province continues to weigh its response to a court decision that concluded Canada's polygamy law is constitutional.

Richard Peck stepped aside as special prosecutor Monday, prompting the province's attorney general to announce he'd be replaced. The minister also said she is weeks away from deciding how to respond to last November's court decision, which concluded the anti-polygamy law is constitutional.

The province has a number of options, from asking police and prosecutors to launch renewed polygamy investigations to asking a higher court to again weigh in on the constitutionality of the law.

Peck has decided he no longer wants to act as special prosecutor for investigations involving Bountiful, a news release said. A replacement will be selected soon.

The high-profile criminal lawyer was appointed special prosecutor in 2007 and ordered to review allegations that members of Bountiful were practising polygamy.

Peck recommended against charges and suggested a constitutional reference. A second lawyer, Len Doust, agreed with Peck.

It wasn't until the attorney general at the time appointed yet another prosecutor, Terry Robertson, that charges were finally laid. Those charges were later thrown out after a judge ruled the attorney general was bound by the decisions of previous special prosecutors when they declined to lay charges.

Currently, prosecutors are awaiting the results of an RCMP investigation into allegations that teenage girls from Bountiful and sister communities in the United States were spirited across the border to marry much older men. The RCMP have stressed that investigation is not looking at polygamy-related charges.

Attorney General Shirley Bond said in a news release that she's asked her assistant deputy minister to select a new special prosecutor to take over for Peck, adding that she has yet to decide how to proceed.

"As attorney general, I am very concerned about these allegations," Bond said in the release, referring to allegations that young girls were transported across the border to be married.

"It is important that the Crown have a special prosecutor available to review any police reports received as a result of the RCMP's investigations. It is my expectation that the new prosecutor will liaise with the RCMP during their investigation, review police reports to determine if criminal charges are warranted and, where appropriate, carry through with the laying of charges and conduct of any prosecutions."

Bond said her staff is still reviewing last year's court decision and she'll announce her intentions "in the coming weeks."

Bond's ministry has previously said the province has the option of asking that the issue be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal for another decision. If that happens, the province could further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a decision would effectively uphold the law across Canada.

The federal government also has the ability to refer the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada, but Ottawa has yet to address the polygamy ruling. A federal Justice Department spokeswoman said Monday that she couldn't comment on what Ottawa might do.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled last November that Canada's 1890 polygamy ban is constitutional as long as it's not used to prosecute children.

Justice Robert Bauman said the harms to women and children outweigh any claims to religious freedom.

Bauman's judgment is considered an advisory opinion that isn't binding on the government or other judges, but legal experts have said any court considering a polygamy case in the future would likely defer to the B.C. decision, which remains the only case in Canada to weigh the constitutionality of the law.

A lawyer appointed to oppose the government by arguing against the polygamy law announced last month he wouldn't be filing an appeal.