Canada says will not appeal polygamy case

AFP/October 23, 2009

Vancouver Canada - Canada will not appeal a court ruling tossing out criminal charges against two men in polygamous religious sects, authorities in British Columbia said Thursday.

Provincial Attorney General Michael de Jong said that westernmost British Columbia will instead ask its provincial Supreme Court whether Canada's law against polygamy is constitutional.

"We believe polygamy is against the law, and it should be against the law," de Jong told reporters.

But before measures can be taken to prevent it, he said, courts have to answer the question: "Is polygamy a crime in Canada?"

Last month a judge with the court quashed charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler. That ruling, however, dealt only with the bureaucratic issue of how the prosecutor was appointed.

Blackmore and Oler head rival factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous break-away sect of Mormons with members in Canada and the United States.

Several US states have prosecuted other church members for polygamy-related charges.

The church has been controversial in British Columbia since the first police investigation in 1990 of church members in Bountiful, in the province's remote southeast. But previous attempts to charge members have been stymied by legal questions about religious and constitutional rights.

Residents are affiliated with rival sects of breakaway Mormons, and the male members of the fundamentalist church engage in multiple marriages. The community has about 1,000 members, of which some 900 are women and children.

Canada's Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the federal government would participate in the constitutional reference case.

"The practice of polygamy has no place in modern Canadian society," Nicholson said in a statement from Ottawa.

"The government of Canada firmly believes that the criminal code prohibition against polygamy is consistent with Canadian values as well as compliant with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Members of the Bountiful community and other religious organizations in Canada are expected to ask the court to participate in any hearings.

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