B.C. Human Rights Tribunal rules against polygamists' complaint

The Canadian Preess/September 3, 2008

Vancouver - Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint from a polygamist couple who alleged a teacher's union discriminated against them by calling for an investigation into allegations of child abuse in the community of Bountiful, B.C.

Duane and Susie Palmer filed their complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 2004, after the president of the B.C. Teacher's Federation sent a letter to the premier calling for the investigation into the polygamous community located in southeastern B.C.

The October 2004 letter refers to allegations that the community school failed to abide by the provincial curriculum and taught religious intolerance.

It said that girls were being told they needed only learn what would prepare them to be wives and mothers and were encouraged to leave school before the age of 16.

A subsequent news release urged the B.C. government to respond to "persistent and serious allegations of child abuse."

And a petition circulated by the federation cites allegations including trafficking of young girls into the community to be the wives of older men, assigning husbands to girls as young as 14 and older men impregnating girls as young as 14 or 15.

The petition called for a thorough investigation and support for the "lost boys" of Bountiful, turned out in order to "keep the gender imbalance," and discontinuation of provincial funding for the school in Bountiful if it was found that the school was not abiding by the provincial curriculum.

Residents of Bountiful are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway group from the mainstream Mormon church that renounced polygamy more than a century ago and disavows any connection.

The Palmers, he a director of the Mormon Hills School Society in Bountiful and she a teacher at the school, said they were concerned children would not be treated equally or graded fairly.

They said they were also concerned that church members who were certified teachers would not be accepted to work in other public schools under the federation.

"They desire to have us persecuted because of our marital status," the couple, who identified themselves as members of the breakaway sect, told the tribunal. "Some of us choose to live in a plural marriage relationship."

They said the law against polygamy had been proven to be unconstitutional.

The couple said they did not want their students harassed by the teachers or other students "because of who they are."

"We have a desire to ensure that our government is not pressured into making any rash and harmful decisions, based on false accusations which would be harmful to the education of our children, and our right to live our religion and lifestyle," said their complaint.

They claimed the federation discriminated against them on the grounds of family and marital status and religion, and made false and unfounded accusations.

But tribunal member Lindsay M. Lyster recently dismissed the complaint, saying that while the Palmers may have been offended by the allegations and opposed to the idea there should be an investigation, there was nothing in the publications to support their complaint.

"The respondents' purpose in creating the letter to the premier, the newsletter and the petition was not to discriminate against the Palmers or anyone else," Lyster wrote in the Aug. 15 ruling.

Rather, the tribunal found the allegations "a matter of legitimate public interest."

Earlier this year, after years of controversy, the B.C. attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the possibility of laying charges in the community.

That occurred after more than 450 children were apprehended by child-welfare authorities from a sister polygamous community in Texas, including at least one teenage girl from Bountiful. Those children were eventually ordered returned to their parents by a Texas court.

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