The NDP MLA for Powell River - Sunshine Coast has embarked on a fact-finding mission into the community of Bountiful, B.C. to address calls for the provincial government to investigate alleged human rights abuses.
Nicholas Simons is the opposition critic for human rights, multiculturalism and immigration and is a former child protection social worker. Last week, he went to Bountiful’s nearby town of Creston where he talked to people who work very closely on the issues of Bountiful.
“It’s not a question of religious freedom,” Simons noted.
“This issue is about much more than polygamy.”
He identified three key issues with the Bountiful community.
“Children aren’t getting the level of education our society expects them to get in terms of high dropout rates. Issue two is the abuse of women and children that will continue unless structural changes are made. The third, that boys and young men become superfluous in a community that doesn’t need gender balance. They’re being sent away, excommunicated with minimal education and social skills that work only in a very small and insular community.”
The commune is a breakaway Mormon sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where its population of approximately 1,000 descends from about six men. In 2004, groups including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and B.C. Teachers’ Federation called on the province to launch a full investigation into reports of abuse and sexual exploitation of women and girls in the Bountiful community, as well as the denial of rights to education.
“Essentially what has happened so far is that successive governments have failed in addressing this issue,” Simons noted. “They’ve failed for two reasons. One was no follow up. Two is it’s very complicated and they haven’t put in the appropriate resources to deal with it. But we have what I consider a problem that needs to addressed.”
He suggests government could ensure the necessary resources are available for people who want to leave the community. He acknowledged that government should not go into the community with a “heavy hand” and remove children but said, on the other hand, the human rights concerns need to be addressed.
“My goal is to avoid confrontation but still find a solution that we as Canadians can be proud of, while at the same time the rights of women and children and young men can be respected.”
He added he wants to “make sure the government pays appropriate attention to the issue and makes a plan to ensure that we use legislation that exists to enforce the laws of our country.”
Simons plans to return to Bountiful and also plans to discuss the issue with the attorney general. “I’ll be bringing it up and following the case closely.”