Polygamy special prosecutor steps down

Globe and Mail, Canada/January 9, 2012

Spurred by details of underage marriages that came to light in a landmark court reference on polygamy, the B.C. government is looking for a special prosecutor to weigh criminal charges relating to activity in Bountiful after the person who had been in the role declined to take another look.

"I made my decision on this case 4½ years ago," said Richard Peck, the Vancouver lawyer who was appointed as special prosecutor on the polygamy file in 2007. "And the government decided to go in a different direction and, as far as I was concerned, I wasn't going to be involved any more."

Mr. Peck recommended in 2007 that criminal charges not be laid in connection with a police investigation into alleged misconduct by individuals in Bountiful. He suggested a court reference to determine whether Canada's ban against polygamy would stand up to a constitutional challenge.

The attorney-general of the day, Wally Oppal, instead appointed two more special prosecutors. The first echoed Mr. Peck's recommendation, and the second, in 2009, approved charges against Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler. Those charges were stayed after a B.C. Supreme Court judge found Mr. Peck's decision was final and binding despite Mr. Oppal's desire for a prosecution.

Rather than appeal that decision, the province in 2009 pursued a court reference, choosing the Supreme Court – rather than the Court of Appeal – as a venue so that evidence and witnesses could "put a human face on polygamy," as then-attorney-general Michael de Jong said at the time.

The Supreme Court reference began in November, 2010, ran for several months and featured testimony from academics and current and former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose members hold polygamy as a tenet of their faith.

The attorneys-general of Canada and B.C. argued that the polygamy law should be upheld, while a court-appointed lawyer argued that it should be struck down.

In November, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman ruled that the polygamy ban should be upheld.

During the proceedings, the court heard reports – which came to light through documents seized on the 2008 raid of an FLDS compound in Texas – of girls as young as 12 being whisked across the border from Bountiful to marry much older men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, now jailed in Texas for sex crimes.

So-called plural marriages are common in Bountiful, which has ties to FLDS communities in the United States.

The RCMP, which has conducted several investigations of Bountiful over the past two decades, in February of last year said it would investigate the reports.

RCMP investigators travelled to Texas in December, and the investigation continues, Corporal Dan Moskaluk said on Monday.

"There is an investigation ongoing with respect to allegations of transport of young girls for the purpose of illicit sexual activity," Cpl. Moskaluk said.

In a statement on Monday, Attorney-General Shirley Bond said she expects the new prosecutor "will liaise with the RCMP during their investigation, review police reports to determine if criminal charges are warranted and, where appropriate, carry through with the laying of charges and conduct of any prosecutions."

Asked about the timing of his decision, Mr. Peck said it was triggered by the province, adding that he has not been actively engaged on the polygamy file since 2007 and that he has limited knowledge of evidence that came up during the reference.

"I guess they [the province] decided they wanted to proceed – and I was asked whether I wanted to be involved and I said no. And I thought I'd made that clear a long time ago, but I guess I hadn't."

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