The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association’s (CPAA) argument that only harmful polygamy should be banned was the best suggestion put before the court, a government lawyer told the BC Supreme Court on March 29, as closing arguments began in the landmark hearings.
Craig Jones, a lawyer for the BC attorney general arguing that polygamy should remain criminal, told Chief Justice Robert Bauman that the CPAA had argued other forms of polygamy should be allowed.
The polyamorists say the Criminal Code’s prohibition on polygamy — including any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time — infringes on their constitutional rights of association, religion, equality, and the life, liberty and security of the person as outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, Jones maintained the whole CPAA argument should ultimately be dismissed because all forms of polygamy are inherently harmful. Jones took aim at the BC Civil Liberties Association argument that the law denies the rights of consenting adults who find fulfillment in plural relationships.
He said the civil liberties group was correct when it argued in favour of same-sex marriage, saying that there was no demonstrable harm to people or society through the legalization of gay marriage. But in this case, the BCCLA is wrong, Jones said.
“Polygamy hurts people,” he said, citing allegations of sexual abuse and child brides being smuggled across borders to marry middle-aged men. “A polygamous society consumes its young,” Jones told the court. “People are harmed by polygamy.”
George Macintosh is tasked with the job of arguing on behalf of those who oppose the criminalization of polygamy. He told Bauman on Nov 24 that the law currently “encompasses polygamy, it encompasses polyandry and it encompasses polyamory.”
“The law ignores casual group sex, but it criminalizes relationships,” Macintosh said.
CPAA lawyer John Ince earlier told Bauman that Section 293 of the Criminal Code “is contrary to the Charter and the deepest moral values of Canadians.” He argued that the focus of the law is on patriarchal polygyny, where a man has two or more wives simultaneously.
At the case’s centre is BC’s fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful near Creston, where men have multiple wives.
The constitutional examination of the law was ordered after polygamy charges against competing Bountiful bishops, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), were arrested in early 2009. Charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler were dropped several months later when a judge found BC’s then-attorney general, Wally Oppal, had gone prosecutor shopping to lay charges.
Police alleged Blackmore has at least 19 wives and more than 100 children. Oler was accused of having three wives. The men maintain their polygamous practices are covered by Canada’s protection of freedom of religion.
Jones maintained the “regressive character of polygamous society is incompatible with individual liberty.”
Closing arguments are expected to continue through the end of April.