The British Columbia Supreme Court is currently hearing a criminal trial in which two fundamentalist Mormon leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, are charged with practicing polygamy. Oler is accused of marrying four women, while Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women and allegedly has over 100 children.
Is Polygamy Illegal in Canada?
Polygamy is a criminal offense in Canada, punishable by up to five years in prison. Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada states:
293 (1) Every one who
(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or
(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
A constitutional reference was conducted in this case in 2011 to determine the constitutionality of Canada’s polygamy law. At that time, Chief Justice Robert Bauman of the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the law on the basis that the harms caused by polygamy justifies the limit the law placed on freedoms of religion, association and expression. Special prosecutor Richard Peck provided a report on this matter 10 years ago, concluding that “religious freedom in Canada is not absolute. Rather it is subject to reasonable limits.”
Interestingly, Blackmore’s lawyer provided notice to the Court on April 27, 2017 that he intends to bring a Charter challenge to seek a stay of the charge against his client. The application has yet to be filed so the nature of the Charter challenge has not been confirmed. The trial is set to continue on May 1, 2017.