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Canadian court mulls polygamy law

First Posted 13:22:00 11/23/2010

VANCOUVER?Canada's law against polygamy went on trial Monday, as arguments began in an unusual case pitting claims of religious rights against authorities opposed to the practice.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia is tackling the thorny constitutional issue, which is expected to expand in scope to include members of polygamous Muslim communities, after prosecutors repeatedly failed to press charges against two members of a breakaway Mormon sect.

Canada's westernmost province took the rare step of asking the court to rule on the law last year, after a judge threw out polygamy charges against the two men.

At the time, a provincial spokesman said polygamy causes "serious social harms," and federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said it "has no place in modern Canadian society."

Winston Blackmore and James Oler have argued they have a religious right to practice polygamy under Canada's constitution.

That claim has so far stymied government attempts to prosecute them, despite police investigations going back 20 years.

Each man heads rival factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints near Bountiful, in the province's remote southeast corner.

The church is a breakaway polygamous sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, based in the United States, where some members have been successfully prosecuted on charges related to polygamy.

A final ruling is likely to take years and the case is expected to eventually be taken up by the British Columbia Court of Appeals and perhaps Canada's Supreme Court.

The first hearing on Monday mostly dealt with a last-minute application by national broadcaster CBC to film at least part of the proceedings.

Cameras are rare in Canadian courts and, with most of the lawyers involved objecting to broadcasting all or part of the hearings, Justice Robert Bauman denied the CBC's request.

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