POLITICS

New prosecutor for Bountiful, B.C., but mandate doesn't include polygamy

01/18/2012 02:30 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - The new special prosecutor appointed to look into the religious commune of Bountiful, B.C., isn't considering charges related to multiple marriage, but the province's attorney general says a polygamy trial hasn't been ruled out.

Peter Wilson has been appointed to examine possible charges related to the movement of teen brides across the U.S. border to marry much older men, the province's criminal justice branch announced Wednesday.

The branch noted Wilson was not asked to consider polygamy charges, despite a landmark court decision last November that concluded the anti-polygamy law is constitutional.

Attorney General Shirley Bond says her ministry is still contemplating how to respond to the court's judgment.

"Certainly, we're not precluding that potential of looking at polygamy charges in the future," Bond told reporters Wednesday at an unrelated announcement in Vancouver.

"There's still some review being done by my legal team of the decision that was brought down."

Bond said she would be making a decision in the weeks ahead.

Her options include launching a fresh polygamy prosecution or referring the matter to a higher court such as the B.C. Court of Appeal. Ottawa could also refer the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada. Neither government has said what it will do.

A previous prosecutor announced earlier this month he was no longer interested in working on the case, prompting the province to announce it would be appointing a replacement.

Wilson has been asked to look into potential charges including sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, procuring prohibited sexual activity and failure to report a child in need of protection, among others.

The constitutional case heard allegations that dozens of girls as young as 12 were spirited across the U.S. border to marry men decades older than them, while several American girls were moved to Bountiful.

Those revelations prompted the RCMP to launch a renewed investigation focusing specifically on the movement of children over the border. The Mounties have confirmed their investigation isn't looking at multiple marriages.

Two leaders in Bountiful, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, were charged in 2009 with practising polygamy, but a judge threw out those charges because of how the province chose its special prosecutors.

Rather than appeal, the B.C. government launched a constitutional reference case to determine whether the anti-polygamy law violated the religious guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Residents of Bountiful are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which teaches that multiple marriage will allow them to reach a higher level of heaven. The FLDS is a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

In the end, Justice Robert Bauman concluded the law does violate the right to religious freedom, but the harm that polygamy causes to women and children outweighed that violation.

A lawyer appointed to oppose the government in the case announced last month he will not appeal.

Bauman's decision is not binding on any level of government or other judges, as constitutional reference cases serve only as advisory opinions.

However, legal observers have suggested Bauman's ruling will still have considerable weight if another judge hears a polygamy case, as it is currently the only case in Canada to examine whether the law is in line with the charter.