B.C. probing child-trafficking charges in cross-border polygamous marriages

Vancouver Sun, Canada/February 18, 2011

Vancouver - In 2005, two fathers from the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful, B.C., drove their 12-year-old daughters across the U.S. border.

They went separately and, in one case, the girl's mother went along.

The purpose of the trips? Marriage, according to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court Friday. The girls were "sealed for time and eternity" in religious ceremonies to Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Jeffs was 49 at the time.

The ceremonies took place in the FLDS-controlled twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. In one case, both the girl's mother and father participated in the ceremony.

Both girls were subsequently driven by an FLDS official to Texas, where the church has a compound called Yearning for Zion ranch.

A year earlier, the documents say that a 13-year-old Bountiful girl was also taken by her father and mother to Colorado City where she was "celestially married" to Jeffs at a ceremony in private home. No one is certain how many wives Jeffs has, although it's commonly estimated to be more than 80.

The polygamous prophet is currently in a Texas jail awaiting trial on two counts of sexual abuse of minors and one count of bigamy.

It's not known whether the Canadian girls are linked to those charges.

But it is as a result of the Texas investigation that last week lawyers for the B.C. government found out about the two 12-year-old girls and their parents. And it was only after receiving the information that B.C. lawyers learned that other provincial officials had known some details about the 13-year-old.

On Friday, provincial government lawyers filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court asking that this new evidence be heard as part of the constitutional reference case against Canada's anti-polygamy laws - even though Chief Justice Robert Bauman's case-management order from a year ago stipulated that no evidence could be submitted after a certain point, which has now past.

Next Friday, Bauman will hear arguments before deciding whether to admit the evidence and whether to seal the documents attached to the application that include: the parents' names, the girls' names and birth records, and FLDS marriage records seized in a 2008 raid on the Texas compound that was prompted by a complaint about child sexual abuse.

At the time, former Bountiful resident Teressa Wall Blackmore told The Vancouver Sun that she knew of five Bountiful girls who were living at the ranch - two of whom were married to Jeffs. Canadian consular officials had also said they were aware that some Canadian teens were taken into protective custody in Texas.

But why nothing was done in 2008 is an open question.

Now that information about the three child brides is being used by the government lawyers as evidence of the harm of polygamy - harm being a primary reason that a right such as religious freedom can be overridden.

Having sex with children is described in the Canadian Criminal Code as sexual exploitation and is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Human trafficking is defined as recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving persons who have been threatened, coerced, abducted, deceived or who were in a position of vulnerability because of the trafficker's position of power.

However, because Canada's legislation was not enacted until November 2005, it may not be applicable.

Unfortunately, the mandatory minimum sentence of five years for trafficking minors definitely can't be used because it wasn't enacted until June 2010.

But if the child brides were delivered to Jeffs after November 2005, the parents could face up to life in prison and a $1 million fine.

Two more unusual sections of the Criminal Code - Sections 170 and 171 - might also be applicable.

The first makes it an offence for a parent or guardian of anyone under 18 who procures the child for the purpose of engaging in any sexual activity with another person. If the child is under 16, the punishment ranges from six months to five years in jail.

The other is Section 171, which makes it a criminal offence for a householder to knowingly permit a person under 18 to "resort to or be in or on the premises for the purpose of engaging in any sexual activity." The maximum penalty is five years in jail.

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