13-year-old sent to B.C. for a husband

Province Newspaper/December 16, 2000
By Fabian Dawson

Hurricane, Utah -- Craig Chatwin said goodbye to his sister Esther Ruth shortly after her 13th birthday last year.

She was getting married.

"She was just a kid and was assigned to marry someone in Canada," said Chatwin, a former member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Chatwin, 28, said Esther Ruth was the last of seven sisters from Colorado City, Ariz. to be assigned husbands at the Bountiful polygamous commune in Lister, B.C.

"I have not seen her since," said Chatwin.

"She was just a kid and they married her to a guy who was 28."

Esther Ruth is among scores of teen brides whose cases are being documented to help the RCMP and U.S. authorities investigate the movement of underage girls between polygamous communities in Utah, Arizona and B.C.

Yesterday, Chatwin and about 40 other former members of the church met for a potluck dinner at the Pah Tempe Hotsprings resort near here to begin a process to help the investigations.

Among those making official inquiries since The Province reported the movement of teen brides into Canada are Ron Barton, a special investigator hired by the Utah attorney-general, the Arizona attorney-general's office, and Utah Senator Ron Allen.

Barton attended last night's meeting but declined to talk to the media.

Allen said he has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday to draw up laws to prevent the movement of minors and teen brides.

He said the laws will enable formation of a "crack investigation unit" to probe crimes in polygamous communities, and establish shelters for those wanting to leave.

"It's a deep-rooted and deep-seated problem and we are hearing more and more about young girls from here being sent up to Canada," he said.

Winston Blackmore, the leader of the Bountiful commune, has refused to talk to The Province.

He has, however, said there may be cases of young girls getting married but that they do so with parental consent.

Ex-member Lenore Holm has filed a complaint with Creston RCMP alleging that when she objected to her daughter Nichole's marriage to a polygamist, Nichole was taken to Bountiful without permission.

Blackmore denies Nichole was smuggled into Canada. He says the girl just wanted to get away from her mother.

Deloy Bateman, a school teacher in Colorado City where the church has its headquarters, said: "It is a shame that these girls at such a young age are forced into these kinds of situations."

"There are hardly any girls in my high school because they have been married off."

Jay Beswick, who helped organize last night's pot-luck dinner meeting, said initial estimates showed between 30 and 50 girls had been taken across the border to be married to men at Bountiful.

"But that number is now said to be low as more and more names are cropping up," said Beswick, a child advocate with a California-based group called For Kids Sake.

"If Canadian investigators had come to this meeting they would have got first-hand evidence of what is going on."

The Bountiful commune in Lister, which is said to be about 1,000 strong, is part of the fundamentalist polygamist group known as the United Effort Plan.

Blackmore, 44, who is believed to have about 30 wives and 80 children, is a leading member of the church run by 92-year-old Rulon Jeffs and his son, Warren.

Although polygamy is a Criminal Code offence, B.C. has decided not to enforce it, saying the law is unconstitutional.

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