Erin Warner, with files from James Wood

Leader-Post, Canada/April 4, 2006

Debbie Palmer moved to Saskatchewan 10 years ago to create a safe distance between herself and the polygamist community she fled seven years earlier.

"I really needed to feel like it was far enough away that it wasn't possible for them to have a half-a-day's drive and find me and my children," said the Prince Albert woman and former plural wife of 34 years.

Now, as rumours circulate that a fundamentalist Mormon leader is urging followers from Bountiful, B.C., to relocate in Saskatchewan, Palmer said she is concerned about sharing a province with the fundamentalist sect.

She also worries about loyalists to self-annointed prophet Warren Jeffs.

Currently a fugitive in the U.S. wanted for allegedly molesting his nephew, Jeffs encourages his followers to shun government services and not to register births, said Palmer. This establishes a population that can have people disappear easily, she added.

"I know that if they're able to locate into an area that is as remote as it is here, we won't have any idea what's happening to the families and what they're doing and if they're safe," Palmer said.

On Monday, Justice Minister Frank Quennell said he doesn't know how serious the idea of the polygamists moving to Saskatchewan is, but pointed out that Jeffs is a fugitive who would be subject to extradition if he comes to the province.

Sect members would be subject to prosecution not only under laws forbidding polygamy but also under laws against the sexual exploitation of minors, he added.

"Those laws would be enforced in Saskatchewan. We certainly don't have the welcome mat out for anybody who would break them," Quennell told reporters.

Rumours began last week in a Utah courtroom that Jeffs was asking his followers -- some 400 of the 1,000 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints living in Bountiful -- to relocate to Saskatchewan after he lost control of a trust fund for polygamous communities in B.C., Utah and Colorado.

Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed handler of the trust, said he heard of the move from Winston Blackmore, a former bishop in Bountiful who was excommunicated from the church by Jeffs.

Blackmore didn't indicate where the new community would be located in the province, said Wisan, adding he could only speculate on why Jeffs chose Saskatchewan for the new site.

"It's a pretty area -- remote -- and they would then not be under the control of a Utah court, which is what they are now through me," said Wisan in a telephone interview from his offices in Utah.

Nancy Mereska has her own ideas as to why polygamists are eyeing Saskatchewan. The Alberta organizer of a global e-mail campaign to stop plural marriage said she blames a government-commissioned study released in January that recommends legalizing plural marriage in Canada.

"They might as well have opened the doors and said, 'Come one, come all,' " said Mereska from her home in Two Hills, Alta.

With polygamous communities comes sexual abuse, underage marriage and a need for resources to help people who are excommunicated or want to leave the religion, she said.

It's a situation with which Palmer is all to familiar. She said she can never stop worrying about family members who have stayed in Bountiful.

"There's some segments of polygamous population and different polygamous groups that aren't as scary as this one is. But there isn't anything that I could say that I don't believe Warren Jeffs isn't capable of," she said. "He's capable of anything."

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