Cult's women slam Bountiful critics 11, 2004

Vancouver -- In a huffy note hammered onto the town message board, women from a B.C. polygamous commune have announced they would be "setting the record straight" about abuse they have allegedly been subjected to.

The public notice lashes out against an equal rights group convinced that the women of Bountiful, B.C., have been brainwashed and need to be saved from their husbands.

Eight women living across the province launched a complaint with the human rights tribunal on behalf of their allegedly enslaved sisters who are part of a breakaway Mormon sect in southeastern British Columbia.

One is former colony member Debbie Palmer who says she suffered physical abuse at the commune, was married off at 15 and had seven children by three different men she was assigned to marry.

The complaint accuses the government of failing to protect girls in Bountiful from an oppressive culture.

Under the tribunal process, the complainants were required to plaster the town with notices explaining what they were doing and asking women to come forward with their stories.

Women on the commune, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are furious that outsiders are judging them and have decided their lifestyle is wrong, let alone oppressive.

"We hope to set the record straight, and to notify the Human Rights Tribunal . . . that it is not the Government of British Columbia that has violated our human rights, but the continued false accusations of a few self-serving activists, fanned by the frenzy of a story-seeking media, that has violated our constitutionally guaranteed rights of religion, association, privacy and peaceful assembly," blasts the notice, which was pinned up over top of one posted by the equal rights group.

The communication, which appeared over the weekend, is a rare response from the cloistered community.

It says that 80 women, "actual members, past and present, of the Bountiful community" have signed a counter-claim being sent to the rights tribunal and the government.

It spells out that they feel they have been given equal protection and benefit of the law and access to public services.

"We have not been discriminated against nor neglected because we are female," the poster reads.

The statement disturbs complainant Jancis Andrews, who believes the Bountiful wives are under the spell of a cult.

"I know that sounds very derogatory, and I don't mean it to be," she said Monday, taking a break from stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey in her home in Sechelt, B.C.

"It's an attempt to understand the mindset of people brought up in a cult. It is not to judge them harshly, we can't judge them by normal standards. We are concerned for them."

She doesn't make such concessions for the B.C. government. Allowing Bountiful to operate as a polygamous town is a great insult to Canadian women, she said.

"They're saying it's okay to lock women in harems, impregnate them and use them as sex artifacts with no control over their own bodies," she said.

Her complaint to the human rights tribunal accuses four provincial ministers of gross dereliction of duty.

It alleges they knew girls in Bountiful were "being denied an education, pulled out of class to become concubines in harems, denied birth control and having motherhood forced upon them."

It also accuses the community school of preaching racism and sexism by teaching students, for example, that "females must obey males or their souls will burn forever in Hell."

B.C. Attorney-General Geoff Plant announced in July that an investigation would be conducted into accusations of child abuse, forcible marriage and sexual exploitation at the commune.

Commune members have not commented on the continuing controversy.

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