BC premier says province looking at options to deal with polygamist community

Canadian Press/April 23, 2008

Victoria - The polygamist community in Bountiful, British Columbia, poses a "vexing problem" for the provincial government, Premier Gordon Campbell admitted Wednesday.

"I'm as upset by what I understand is happening in Bountiful as I think most British Columbians are," he said in a telephone interview. But the B.C. leader said his government has to tread carefully to ensure that it doesn't make matters worse.

"Our goal is to deal with this as effectively and as quickly as we can to protect, particularly young people, who are possibly caught in this," he said.

Residents of Bountiful, in southeastern B.C., are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke with the mainstream Mormon church when it abandoned the practice of polygamy many years ago.

The leaders of the breakaway Mormon community practice so-called "celestial unions," often involving older men and multiple younger wives.

The B.C. colony has long confounded provincial politicians and police and it is again the focus of intense attention due to its links to a Texas commune raided by child welfare officials.

Authorities there seized more than 400 children earlier this month after an anonymous call from a teenaged girl claiming to have been beaten and sexually abused by her much older husband.

A Texas court has heard that some of the children are believed to be Canadian, a fact the federal Foreign Affairs department has been unable to verify.

Wally Oppal, B.C.'s attorney general, has said he's discussed the issue with a U.S. consular official within the last few months and believes it likely that U.S. citizens may also be residing in the Canadian colony.

In the meantime, Campbell said his government is in close touch with Ottawa.

"We're working with the federal government with regard to the situation where there are potentially some B.C. kids in Texas, because we'll do everything we can to protect those kids," he said, adding that it is a primary concern.

"We don't want to act precipitously when the actions may make us all feel better, but make matters worse for the kids that are directly involved," he said, adding that he is sure his attorney general is weighing those factors.

Meanwhile, Texas authorities say they have finished taking court-ordered DNA samples from all the children removed from the polygamist compound more than two weeks ago.

Roughly 500 samples were taken at the coliseum in San Angelo where authorities have been holding the children.

Child welfare officials are trying to sort out the complicated family relationships at the compound.

Spokeswoman Janece Rolfe said the testing at the coliseum was completed late Tuesday, but technicians are still taking samples from parents in Eldorado.

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