Vancouver -- An overwhelming majority of Canadians believe polygamy should remain illegal, according to a COMPAS poll obtained exclusively by The Vancouver Sun.
Only one in 10 of those surveyed believes the practice of having multiple marriage partners should be legalized. Another 10 per cent said they didn't know.
The poll also found strong support for governments to intervene more aggressively to protect children in polygamous communities such as Bountiful, B.C.
Eight of 10 surveyed said that governments need to do more or a lot more to ensure the children get a better education, that girls have a choice of whom they marry and that boys are not forced out of the community so that a higher ratio of females to males is maintained.
The poll of 502 people across Canada was done for the Institute of Canadian Values between Oct. 18 and 27 and has a margin of error of 4.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Coincidentally during the polling, there were media reports about a study done for the federal Justice Department suggesting that by not enforcing the polygamy law, Canada was violating international law and United Nations conventions on the rights of women and children.
The institute's executive-director Joseph Ben-Ami said his group wanted to test Canadian opinion on polygamy because ''it fits hand in glove with the whole debate about regulating the structure of family relationships by the state. What is a married couple? It is an interesting test of where Canadians are on these issues.''
The institute has been a leading opponent to Canada's legalization of same-sex marriages. But Ben-Ami said that unlike some same-sex marriage opponents in the United States, the institute does not see any parallels between it and polygamy.
''Polygamous relationships (practised by fundamentalist Mormons and some Muslims) are something that is permitted by religions as opposed to same-sex marriages, which are not permitted,'' he said.
Ben-Ami added the institute believes the right to religious freedom is not absolute and that limits can not be placed on religious practices if they are outside societal norms. The hypothetical example he used was a religion that requires killing children as sacrificial offerings.
But he added, ''To be perfectly honest, it makes some sense for the government to be out of the marriage business altogether. The state shouldn't be regulating marriages. Let religious institutions decide on the basis of the best interest of children.''
The findings surprised COMPAS president Conrad Winn because 20 per cent of Canadians either have no opinion or would legalize polygamy.
''I think that's extraordinary and may go part way to explain why governments have turned a blind eye to the practice,'' he said.
''I think it points to a certain rootlessness in Western civilization. We have moved rather quickly recently from very firm Christian beliefs to a pluralistic acceptance of almost everything. It seems that we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with absolutes. It really is moral relativism.''
Quebecers seem much less interested in governments intervening. The difference between English and French speakers answering yes to the question of whether governments should do "a lot more to protect girls and boys in polygamous communities'' was a 15 per cent.
Winn suggested that one reason for that is that there has been much less media coverage in Quebec of either the fundamentalist Mormons community in British Columbia or the arrest in the United States of Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who was on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.
But he noted that noted that Quebec couples are much less likely to marry than other Canadians, adding, "I wouldn't be shocked if the difference is because Quebecers have had a much more active rebellion against their Christian roots than other Canadians.''