Polygamy on the decline worldwide: Law professor

The Vancouver Sun/January 6, 2011

Vancouver - Canada has obligations under international human rights law to uphold its current rules prohibiting polygamy, a University of Toronto law professor charged Thursday, calling the practice "inherently wrong."

"The patriarchal structure allowing men to take multiple wives offends women's dignity," Dr. Rebecca Cook told a B.C. Supreme Court tasked with determining the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy law. "The purpose of international human rights law is to protect and promote the dignity of the individual."

Cook, who was called as a witness for the attorney-general of Canada, also testified the trend among nations around the world is to ban the practice of multiple marriages. She noted that while international law has no police force, it becomes enforceable out of a "sense of obligation" under treaties.

"Where countries do not comply, they are ashamed," Cook said. "No country wants to become a pariah state."

Cook identified a number of harms to woman that are associated with polygamy, including increased risk of physical violence and increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV.

She said the practice of outlawing polygamy around the world - even in Africa - is on the rise.

"The majority of states are banning polygamy?" asked lawyer Keith Reimer.

"Absolutely," replied Cook. "It's a growing trend, a discernible trend."

She added that under human rights treaties, Canada has an obligation to "take all appropriate means" to eliminate polygamy.

The trial being heard by B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman is expected to run until the end of January.

The issue was referred to the court after two leaders in the B.C. fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful - Winston Blackmore and James Oler - had polygamy charges against them stayed in 2009.

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