Canadian seized in Texas set to be free

Judge to end supervision of teen, now 18, one of 400 young people removed from religious sect's compound

Globe and Mail, Canada/September 16, 2008

Five months after an unprecedented raid on a polygamist sect in Texas, a Canadian teenager who was picked up by child-protection workers will finally be free to leave the state and return to Canada.

A Texas Supreme Court judge is expected to sign an order within a week that will end court supervision of the teenager's care, Mary Ann Gonzales, a deputy clerk, said yesterday in an interview. Once the court order is lifted, the young woman may live where she wants and is no longer required to stay in Texas, Ms. Gonzales said.

The teen was swept up in a sensational raid in early April on the remote Yearning for Zion temple and residential compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In one of the largest such cases in U.S. history, Texas authorities took into custody more than 400 young people believed to be under 18. Child-protection officials alleged the religious sect was grooming underage girls for marriage and that some youngsters were victims of neglect and sexual abuse.

The Canadian teen's case sparked concern about an unofficial cross-border underground railway that former FLDS women said was used for moving underage girls between polygamist colonies in British Columbia and the United States. The former FLDS members said the young women were taken across the border to be assigned as so-called celestial brides to older men. At the time of the raid, the Canadian teen's parents said she was visiting her grandmother at the polygamist compound.

The young woman, who was 17 then, was initially placed by the court in foster care. In June, she was allowed to live with a guardian, but a court order required her to remain in Texas. Her caregivers had to be available for unannounced visits by child-protection workers.

However, she turned 18 this month and, as a result, is no longer under the jurisdiction of the state child-protection agency. Her parents, who live in a polygamist FLDS community outside Creston in southeastern B.C., did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday.

So far, the court has lifted restrictions on 287 of the young people who were taken into custody and allowed them to return to their families. Five sect members have been charged with sexual assault of a child, and several have been charged with bigamy

One FLDS member was charged with failing to report child abuse. Texas authorities have reportedly said they have evidence of at least 10 underage marriages. One caseworker testified in court that 48 per cent of the men were involved in underage-marriage practices.

Despite the reversal in court orders, Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for Child Protective Services, said yesterday that authorities do not believe they made any mistakes. Investigators acted on information they had at the time of the raid, he said in an interview.

"We stand by the fact that at the time, given the circumstances and the information we had, we did act appropriately and no, we haven't changed that position," he said. Asked whether an apology were necessary, Mr. Crimmins said: "Absolutely not."

The protection agency continues to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, including in some of the cases in which the youngsters have returned to their families, he said.

The reasons for allowing that return vary according to the case. In some instances, young people believed to be minors were proved to be over 18 and outside the jurisdiction of the protection agency. Others turned 18 after the raid, thereby growing out of the agency's jurisdiction. In many cases, court supervision was dropped in cases where the young people could be placed with suitable parents or relatives, Mr. Crimmins said.

The raid followed an anonymous emergency call for help from someone who said she was a pregnant 16-year-old in an abusive relationship with an older man living at the FLDS compound. Although authorities now consider the call to have been a hoax, they say they found evidence of abuse once they were inside the compound.

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