Polygamy remains a crime in Canada, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The law violates the religious freedom of fundamentalist Mormons, but the harm against women and children outweighs that concern, according to the 335-page ruling.
The court upheld the law, saying it is constitutional except where it applies to children between the ages of 12 and 17 who marry into polygamy.
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman found that the salutary effects of the ban on multiple marriage far outweigh the deleterious.
“The law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value of Western society from the earliest of times,” said the judge in his conclusion.
“It seeks to protect against the many harms which are reasonably apprehendend to arise out of the practice of polygamy.”
At trial some parties, including fundamentalist Mormons, claimed that their religious freedoms were violated by the law and Bauman said the interference with that “sincerely held belief” is very significant.
But he noted that some fundamentalist Mormons do choose to live monogamously without sacrificing their religious beliefs.
“And, as we have seen, polygamy in Islam is not mandated, though it is permitted by the Qu-ran.”
The judge said that in criminalizing everyone in a prohibited union, section 293 of the Criminal Code includes within its ambit young persons who are parties to such unions.
“This serious impairment of young persons’ liberty interests does not advance the important objectives of s. 293.”
The judge agreed with submissions from the B.C. and Canadian governments that the trial was essentially about the harms alleged to occur during polygamy, specifically Parliament’s “reasoned apprehension” of harm arising out of multiple marriages.
“This includes harm to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage.”