Government pledges aid for women of Bountiful

Vancouver Sun; CanWest News Service/August 21, 2007

The B.C. government has reached a negotiated settlement with a number of people who complained to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal over the polygamous community of Bountiful -- located in the southeast corner of the province.

Two days of mediation late last week resulted in the agreement, details of which were released Monday.

Under the agreement, the government will provide funds for basic crisis intervention training for interested members of the Bountiful community, maintain the current level of services to the Bountiful community and work to refine the way those services are delivered to residents of the closed and secretive community.

Judith Doulis, the complainants' lawyer, called it a positive outcome in a "very difficult situation where no one can say you have to do this or you have to do that."

"They (the complainants) did what they could and hopefully it will assist people (in Bountiful) who want to make a lifestyle change," she added.

Also, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and his cabinet will be advised by their own officials that the Independent School Act does not prohibit taxpayer-funded schools from discriminating against women and girls, yet it does forbid racial discrimination.

The majority of the government-accredited and funded schools are operated by a variety of different religious groups and are allowed to teach religion as long as they are not fostering doctrines of "racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, religious intolerance or persecution, social change through violent action, or sedition."

However, sexual discrimination was not included when the act was written in 1985 or when it was amended earlier this year.

The process began when a small group of women complained two years ago to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that the provincial government has discriminated against all women -- but specifically the female members of the fundamentalist Mormon community in Bountiful. They contended the government had failed to enforce the law that forbids polygamy and failed to provide Bountiful's girls and women with equal access to services.

Bountiful is the 60-year-old community of about 1,400 fundamentalist Mormons located in the southeastern corner of British Columbia. The group is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, which disavowed polygamy in 1890.

"I feel we've really achieved something," said Jancis Andrews, one of the complainants. "We've created a good foundation stone for the government and other groups to build on whereby all of the abuses can be stopped . . . although it will possibly take years to accomplish."

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