Canadian province probes polygamous sect

CNN/June 2, 2008

British Columbia's attorney general has ordered a third investigation into the Canadian branch of a polygamous sect -- even though the first two such efforts failed over questions about whether polygamy is illegal in Canada.

Attorney General Wally Opal on Monday called for a special prosecutor to look into allegations of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of girls in the community in Bountiful, British Columbia.

"We keep hearing about many young girls who have established relationships with much older men," Opal told reporters, saying the girls are 14 to 16 years old.

He said the issue is whether the criminal code on polygamy is constitutional, which has been a point of contention in British Columbia's judiciary for 20 years.

At Opal's request, two lawyers recently issued opinions on the matter, both concluding it would be difficult to pursue criminal charges and one saying it would be unfair to do so, according to Opal's office.

Opal picked Vancouver lawyer Terrence Robertson to determine whether the sect can be prosecuted successfully.

Opal said his office doesn't want to rush the process. He cited the recent massive investigation by U.S. authorities into the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) sect in Eldorado, Texas. More than 440 children were seized from the group's compound in April after allegations surfaced of sexual and physical abuse.

However, on Monday, a district judge signed an order allowing the children to return to their parents. The ruling came after the Texas Supreme Court last week affirmed that the state had no right to remove them during the raid.

"This is a very complex issue. If you followed the Texas situation you would see how complicated it really is," Opal said. "The authorities moved in quickly, but found out that they proceeded improperly."

The FLDS is not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. It was not clear if Bountiful's community had any connections to the FLDS or any other polygamous group in the United States.

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