AuthorAndrew Coyne
e polygamous community of Bountifu l, British Columbia, had been a
stain on the Canadian conscience for decades. It was known t hat men in
the community, members of a fundamentalist oshoot of the Mormon
sect, took several wives, a nd that many of these wives were underage. Yet,
to the growing frustration of the British Columbians and of their govern-
ment, no prosecution had ever been brought against them.
e reason: prosecutors within British Columbia’s famously independ-
ent Crown prosecutors’ oce, known as the Criminal Justice Branch,
feared Canada’s 120-year-old law against polygamy was unconstitutional
a violation of the religious freedom, certainly, of those who claimed
the practice as a part of their fa ith, and possibly of other rights. Not that
this was a view restricted to the prosecutors. So long as it occurred be-
tween consenting adults, polygamy seemed to many obser vers a matter of
personal choice. If there were specic allegations of exploitation or abuse,
these could be addressed by means of other sections of the Criminal Code.
But to make a crime of polygamy itself ?
To some this was overbroad, an improper use of the criminal law to
express societal disapproval. Others questioned whether even disapproval
was warranted. Surely this was a relic of Victorian prudery or cultural
chauvinism, or perhaps both; a blinkered prejudice in favour of Western
ways and traditional va lues. Was polyg amy, whether obser ved in the ultra-
conservative lifest yle of the Bountiful colony, or the libertine adventures of
urban freethinkers, unusual? Certainly. But where was the harm sucient
to justify overriding constitutional rights?
To be sure, you could nd examples of abuse within polygamous
relationships. But you could nd examples of abusive monogamous rela-
tionships as well. As for one man, one woman, “till death do you part”
that train had left long ago. Was polygamy multiple wives at the same
time— al l that dierent from the “serial monogamy” a succession of
wives at various times practised by many men, some of them famous

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