Canadian polyamorists interested in being heard in BC’s constitutional court reference on the polygamy law have until Jan 28 to apply for intervener status in the case.
BC Supreme Court Justice Robert Baumann ruled Dec 4 that the province’s attorney general has until Dec 15 to advise all interested parties and to post the information on its website (www.gov.bc.ca/ag/).
A group of polyamorists represented by Vancouver lawyer John Ince says it intends to be involved in the case.
They say Section 293 of the Criminal Code (which criminalizes all polygamous marriages as well as poly “conjugal unions” outside of marriage) 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.
They say the law criminalizes loving, committed, consensual relationships and should not remain in place. And they want interested Canadians either to testify in court or swear affidavits to challenge the law.
In queer circles, terms like “open” and “polyamorous” are used to describe people who don’t think that relationships are for two people to the exclusion of all others. (Though polyamorists who engage in multiple romantic relationships often disdain polygamists, whose rigid sense of gender limits the possible permutations to one man and multiple women.)
The BC government’s move to request the constitutional reference comes after BC Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein this fall quashed polygamy charges against two leaders from the fundamentalist Mormon polygamous community of Bountiful in southeastern BC.
Rival fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler had been charged with one count each of polygamy in relation to their multiple marriages.
Stromberg-Stein ruled that former BC attorney general Wally Oppal had acted improperly in securing charges against the pair and thus quashed the charges against them.
In October, current attorney general Mike de Jong said the government would ask the court to review the law itself.
The move is unusual as such cases are generally heard in appellate courts. The Supreme Court of BC, however, can hear evidence directly from interested parties and will do so in this case, both for and against retaining the law as it is written.
Baumann has appointed Vancouver lawyer George Macintosh as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, to argue that the law is not consistent with the Charter.
While Blackmore and Oler’s lawyers oppose the appointment, BC’s attorney general supports it.
“The practice of polygamy is not confined to Bountiful and is accepted in other cultures, some of which have substantial and growing immigrant populations in Canada. The AG BC expects that most of the evidence of the harm of polygamy will be from communities other than Bountiful and from outside the FLDS context,” Baumann notes in his ruling.
The judge says the attorney general’s office has identified 40 groups with an interest in the case. He says the decision on the reference will impact civil rights across such areas as pension and immigration law and policy.