Who Will Help the Children of Bountiful?

Last week in a small courtroom in the idyllic valley community of Creston, British Columbia, six fathers, all former adherents to the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church, implored local Provincial Court Judge Sheard to help them help their children, forty in all.

The courage exhibited by these fathers, mostly younger men in their thirties, born and raised in the faith, and mostly husbands to only one wife cannot be understated, given the engrained distrust and suspicion members of Bountiful have of the world outside the confines of their community.

While clean-scrubbed children, modestly-dressed mothers, and hardworking fathers may lead one to assume the best about Bountiful, the truth is that the community has not escaped the fall-out from the arrest, conviction and incarceration of pedophile Warren Jeffs, who remains the active leader of a large group of Bountiful residents.

Warren Jeff’s ranting revelations and errant edicts from his prison cell in Texas have led to the ex-communication of many of his male followers throughout late 2011 and 2012, including the men who appeared in Court in Creston this week, but there are many others throughout FLDS communities in Colorado, Texas and Utah.

Jeffs has declared that he is the husband of all the wives whose husbands have been forced out; he has forbidden any new marriages, or any sexual relations between spouses while he languishes in prison; and he believes that if his followers become more devout, the apocalypse he has predicted will release him from confinement and bring a fiery death to mankind.

Recently four young boys under the age of nine were “sent away” from Bountiful because their father was an “apostate”. These children are now living with a “mother” in the bushes with a logging crew in the Kootenai’s. The psychological trauma of their dismissal from the community and separation from their siblings is difficult to comprehend.

But there is more. The Bountiful elementary and secondary schools have, for the first time, rejected government funding, in order to establish their own curriculum. Sources reveal that academic rigor will be replaced by videos of Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs has also forbidden any touching or hugging of the children and toys, games, and sport activities have been banned.

Some of the fathers, who have been sequestered from the realities of “child brides” and “lost boys” now understand the evil inherent in child marriages and the polygamy policies of their Church and no longer accept the will of their leaders. Many of them believed their wives and children would leave Bountiful with them, but that is not the case.

The women of Bountiful have led even more cloistered lives than their husbands, and cannot cope with the notion their leaders have led them astray. They have no desire to lose their salvation and have been told that to engage with their departed spouses is to suffer eternal damnation. They are victims of Warren Jeffs, jus as the fathers and children are.

These fathers have not seen their children since their ex-communication, some as long as 12 months ago, as the FLDS Church has forbidden it. But that changed, when the Creston court, on without notice applications, ordered access for the fathers to their children and granted orders that the children not be removed from the East Kootenay area of British Columbia. The FLDS Church’s reputation for clandestinely removing children and spiriting them across the border to communities in the United States is well documented.

Last week’s court hearing is only the beginning of a movement within the growing community of those ex-communicated from the FLDS Church, to reach out to protect their children from the leadership of an increasingly bizarre Warren Jeffs and the men who promulgate his will.

There is a publication ban on the names of the parents and their children. The next scheduled court hearing in these cases is November 7, 2012.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Warren Jeffs and the Tryanny at Bountiful, BC

From his shaved head and striped jumpsuit to his withering limbs, Warren Jeffs no longer resembles the exalted man and prophet who ruled the polygamous sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, including Canada’s FLDS community in Creston, British Columbia, called “Bountiful”.

However, looks are deceiving because Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence, plus 20 years, and teetering between martyrdom and self-delusion, has maintained control over his followers despite his confinement. Desperate to remain leader and prophet, Warren Jeffs’ tactics are diverse. In 2007 while imprisoned in Utah, a video surfaced that showed Jeffs in prison garb admitting he was a false prophet and had lied to his followers.

Yet several years later, he ordered his subordinates to spend thousands of dollars on newspaper ads across the United States which declared “Cease thy wicked attack ye government authorities against my people and my church”, an ad clearly designed to buttress his tarnished image with his followers.

Reports of suicide attempts, head banging and food and water deprivation have been replaced by ranting revelations and errant edicts meant to solidify his control.

Over the last year Jeffs has ex-communicated hundreds of younger fathers and husbands, including at least a dozen or more men from Bountiful, ripping families apart with no apparent concern. He has also ordered “rebellious” teenagers to be evicted from the community, for offences as innocuous as hairstyles and teen friendships. Several teenage girls from Bountiful have been caught by this edict.

Jeffs has also banned sexual relationships between spouses including kissing, hugging or any physical contact other than handshaking, a rule that will prevail until he is released from prison. He has declared that a group of fifteen men alone are worthy of procreating and they shall father all FLDS children.

Mothers and fathers have been ordered not to touch or hug their children and toys, recreation, and games are no longer permissible.

The Bountiful elementary and secondary schools have, for the first time, refused government funding, opting to run the programs they desire. Reports have surfaced that school hours are now filled with YouTube videos of Jeffs’ preaching.

But Jeffs’ new tactics are backfiring. At Bountiful, both fathers and mothers who have been banished by Jeffs or taken the brave step of leaving voluntarily, are fighting back, trying to regain control of their lives, and more importantly, taking steps to rescue their children, who are suffering terribly.

Recently, four young boys were ejected from Bountiful because their father was an “apostate”, one of the men who refused to accept Jeffs’ leadership. At least 40 children have been denied any contact with their fathers for many months, a situation that was partially remedied this week by Creston Provincial Court Judge Sheard who ordered immediate access. A further court hearing is scheduled in Creston on November 7, 2012.

The awakening in Bountiful may signal the beginning of the end of Warren Jeffs.

I Do, I Do, I Do…You Can’t

Polygamy has jumped to the top of those issues that are considered interesting, but weird. You only have to turn to HBO’s dramatic series “ Big Love”, to get a taste of the controversial practice of plural wives in the fundamentalist Mormon community. If you change the channel to TLC, you’ll get a glimpse of the even stranger lives of the “Sister Wives”.

Many of us have also followed the legal travails of Warren Jeffs, imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ, who after two criminal trials in two States now languishes in prison for life, plus 20 years for the felony sexual assaults of two teenage girls. Notably, the jury deliberated for only 30 minutes before finding Jeffs’ guilty.

At the same time as Jeff’s legal woes unfolded, British Columbia’s polygamous colony in Bountiful was the subject of numerous investigations that resulted in the arrest of Bountiful leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler in 2009. Blackmore is believed to have 25 wives and 101 children.

Do you remember that it took three or four legal opinions from several of British Columbia’s top lawyers to figure out whether Blackstone and Oler could be convicted under the polygamy laws of Canada? The concern was that the law would be considered unconstitutional and Blackmore and Oler would walk. Someone finally said they could, and the show began.

After lengthy court proceedings and exhaustive analysis provided by a phalanx of lawyers—I counted 38, representing the governments of BC and Canada, and a raft of non-profit organizations, ranging from the BC Teacher’s Federation to REAL Women of Canada and the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, the British Columbia Supreme Court delivered hundreds of pages of Reasons setting out the Court’s opinion.

What’s to consider you may ask? Polygamy is illegal and has always been illegal in the western world. Why would 38 lawyers waste their time debating the pros and cons of polygamy?

The answer is found in one word: the Charter. Yes, Canada’s very own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s legacies, invites all and sundry to assess and analyze our laws under the microscope of our constitutional freedoms, in this case freedom of religion, expression and association.

But first the Court examined the historical context of polygamy reviewing the phenomenon of multiple marriages around the world. Modern polygamy, we are told, found its roots in Greco-Roman society.

I’m sure you know that polygamy is practiced in Muslim communities, but did you also know that it has been practiced among North America’s First Nations groups and is favoured by Wiccans as well?

These polygamous communities engage in the practice as a result of their religious convictions. Muslims rely on the Qur’an, fundamentalist Mormons on the Book of Mormon and aboriginals and Wiccans on their own spiritual beliefs.

The Court recognized the legitimacy of religious freedoms and agreed the criminalization of polygamy interferes with those freedoms, but did not accept that freedom of expression or association were breached by the criminalization of polygamy.

But a finding of a breach of religious freedom was not enough for the law to be repealed. Neither was an infringement of the personal security of a participant in a polygamous union significant enough to oust the law. The fact you can go to jail for polygamy is just too bad.

The Court upheld the law of polygamy but allowed that children between the age of 12 and 17 should not be subject to the rigours of arrest and conviction for their involvement.

The Court determined that the harm to women and children including sexual exploitation, coercion, and pedophilia justified the law against polygamy.

Meanwhile, back in TV Land, Kody Brown, patriarch, father and husband of “Sister Wives” has fled Utah and moved to Las Vegas with his family to avoid possible charges of bigamy.

You only need to watch the show to understand why polygamy is still against the law.

Polygamy Ruling to be Released Tomorrow

Polygamy is probably not something that crosses your mind too often, but if you live in British Columbia, Utah, Arizona, Texas and a few other states in America, it is a simmering issue that has come to a boil in Canada.

Tomorrow the British Columbia Supreme Court will issue its ruling as to whether polygamy should be legalized in Canada.

Last November the British Columbia Supreme Court began proceedings intended to grapple with the law that criminalizes polygamy in Canada and has since 1890.

The case began when rumours and reports of sexual exploitation, coercion, and human trafficking in the small British Columbia community of Bountiful came to the attention of BC’s Attorney-General.

Bountiful is the home of Canada’s most high-profile fundamentalist Mormon community, a group that has links to the infamous Warren Jeffs, the leader and high priest of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints in the United States, who practice polygamy as part of their religion.

Jeffs has been the target of US authorities for some time and is presently serving a lengthy prison term for his role in the rape of an underage Mormon wife.

Bountiful’s leader is Winston Blackmore who is said to have 25 wives and 101 children. Blackmore married five of his wives when they were still children and it is this conduct that has attracted the attention of the BC government and feminist organizations across Canada.

Those in favour of maintaining polygamy as a criminal offence argue the law is vital to protect society’s vulnerable, in this case women and children.

Others say that Canadians don’t want a society that encourages multiple marriages with the social ills that follow. The family law issues alone are mind-boggling.

Those who support striking down the law say that it violates freedom of religion and freedom of association, both protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, a group whose members are involved in intimate relationships consisting of three or more consenting adults, line up with those who say the law must go. They take the position they ought to be free to love and live with whoever they choose and the law against polygamy has no place in their bedrooms.

The legal and moral issues arising from polygamy are sensitive and complex. The Court heard testimony from dozens of witnesses who will be directly affected by the outcome of the court proceedings.

What everyone agrees upon is that this case will undoubtedly end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

My prediction? The law against polygamy will stand and the criminal activities arising from the practice will be vigorously prosecuted, while the activities of consenting adults will remain unfettered.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang