The raid on the remote Texas compound of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sparked calls yesterday for the Canadian government to crack down on the movement of young girls across the border for so-called celestial marriages.
The border crossing, minutes away from the polygamist community of Bountiful, B.C., does not consistently enforce passport controls, Audrey Vance, who lives near the border and is involved with an anti-polygamist group, said yesterday in an interview.
It's a quiet border in an agricultural area with much of the traffic going to the U.S. for shopping or for the casino. "We're never asked for a passport or ID [when returning to Canada]. It's so easy to come into Canada," Ms. Vance said. "You just drive up. ... They ask where you have been. You say shopping and they wave you on."
Ms. Vance lives in Creston, a town of about 5,000 located 13 kilometres north of the border at Rykerts, B.C.
Bountiful, with a population of about 1,000, is midway between Creston and the border. Ms. Vance is one of the founders of Altering Destiny Through Education, which has previously raised concerns with the federal government over alleged ruses U.S. women in the polygamous sect use to sidestep immigration requirements.
A Globe and Mail investigation last week discovered that a 17-year-old girl from Bountiful was among a group of 463 children and teenagers under 18 years old who were apprehended during the Texas raid on April. 3. Authorities say they found at the compound indications of sexual abuse and a pervasive pattern of grooming girls for underage sex with older men.
The Canadian girl's parents have said their daughter was at the Texas compound to visit her grandmother. Former FLDS women said in interviews the sect regularly sends young girls across the border, in both directions, for religious marriages to older men. The men are encouraged in the religion to have at least three wives. Former members say the movement of women across the border is akin to trafficking of young girls for sexual purposes.
"They [the federal government] have to start paying attention to the border," Ms. Vance said. The government should increase enforcement of border controls to stop the trafficking of women from the U.S. to the polygamist community, she added.
Paula Shore, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, said in an interview she could not discuss any individual case for reasons of privacy.
But in general terms, she said, it is up to travellers at every crossing to satisfy border officers that they are genuine visitors to Canada. Although the Rykerts border is closed from midnight to 8 a.m. during the winter and from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. in the summer, the border continues to be monitored, she said.
Also yesterday, Rosalind Prober, president of Beyond Borders, said a public inquiry should be called into the rights of children in Bountiful.
In 2005, the Winnipeg-based group urged the RCMP to press charges against Winston Blackmore, the former bishop of Bountiful, after one of his wives made comments about a 15-year-old child-bride of her husband. Ms. Prober said yesterday nothing ever came of the group's demand for criminal charges for sexual activity with a minor.
Canada will be on the spot in November at a world congress on sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Rio de Janeiro, Ms. Prober said.
The trafficking of children will be a focus of the international meeting - sponsored by Brazil, Sweden, Japan, Unicef and two non-governmental organizations - and attention will be drawn to Canada's failure to deal with the child brides in the polygamist B.C. community, she said.