Jancis Andrews does not mince words when she's talking about the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). She deplores the constant foot-dragging of the B.C. attorney general's department that allowed this "cult" as she calls it to flourish in the southern B.C. town of Bountiful.
Andrews is a self-made expert on the subject of Bountiful. The local woman spoke to the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) on the subject April 27.
According to Andrews, the sect, an offshoot of the American church is not a part of the present day Mormon Church. And although FLDS got its start with two families in the mid 20th century, it didn't come to the public's attention until about 1990 when Debbie Palmer, one of the celestial wives (so called because men needed to have at least three wives to reach heaven) went to the RCMP about the many abuses taking place in the secluded town.
Palmer soon detailed the marriages of underage girls to men many times their age. The number of "marriages" these men were taking part in and the subsequent banishment of the young men of the town.
Colin Gabelman, the attorney general of the day declined to prosecute in spite of the fact that polygamy contravenes S.293 of the Criminal Code. That section of the law essentially said that every home in Bountiful was breaking the law. But Gabelman based his decision on his belief that the Canadian Charter protected the FLDS under the section guaranteeing freedom of religion.
That, Andrews said, is bunk.
"Any idiot knows that no group in Canada, religious or secular, has a Charter right to collect women and girls as concubines in harems, to force sex on them, which is rape, to deny them birth control to force boys out of the community in order to make more concubines available for the elders, and to threaten anyone who tries to protest with burning for all eternity in hell," Andrews said.
By refusing to act, Andrews said, Gabelman gave the men of Bountiful the go-ahead to continue their polygamous ways.
In 2002 Andrews first brought the issue to the CFUW, the members promptly began a letter writing campaign to then-AG Geoff Plant. Plant also was against prosecution for much the same reasons as Gabelman.
By this time the provincial media had begun to investigate Bountiful. CBC and Global TV had done exposes on the sect and well-known Vancouver Sun reporter; Daphne Bramham began a series of columns on the FLDS. But in spite of the constant barrage of indignation from the Canadian public, Plant continued his stance on the law.
Finally this year, almost 70 years since the first polygamous marriage in B.C., Wally Oppal, the current attorney general charged elders Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler with practicing polygamy.
Andrews does not think this goes far enough. Why, she wondered are the two not being prosecuted for sexual exploitation. Blackmore is on record for admitting to having "married" in other words having sex with underage girls. RCMP have an affidavit from Blackmore's only legal wife, Jane testifying she performed midwife duties on "many" underage girls.
Oppal said the problem lies with the girls of the community; none of them are willing to testify against the men. Andrews argues that there is one set of laws for B.C. and another for Bountiful. In the rest of B.C. if someone is being abused RCMP have the right to charge the abuser with or without the abused person's consent or testimony.
Andrews opined that one reason for lack of prosecution could be money. The subsequent trial will cost Canadian taxpayers millions. Ultimately Blackmore and Oler could end up arguing their case in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Another reason could be logistics. If every man living with multiple wives were charged there would be hundreds of men in jail. Bountiful would be a disaster. The women have little education and few ways to support themselves. Again taxpayers would be on the hook for the women and children's support.
Recently one of Blackmore's plural wives gave birth to his 119th child. How this and his other children will be cared for should he end up in prison is a hairy question.
Andrews continues to be a thorn in the side of B.C. and Canadian politicians who chose to ignore the rights of women and children in this country. She urged the CFUW to apply for intervener status should the Bountiful men reach the Supreme Court.
"We owe this to the suffragettes who fought and literally died for women's rights," she said.
"Women, united, will never be defeated," she stated.
To add your voice to this issue email Oppal at firstname.lastname@example.org the issue will not die regardless of the outcome of the May 12 election, should Oppal not be elected your emails will be forwarded to the appropriate party.