VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government has cleared the way for a special prosecutor to lay polygamy charges linked to the RCMP investigation in the southeastern B.C. community of Bountiful.
Peter Wilson was appointed by the province’s criminal justice branch earlier this year to examine possible charges related to the movement of teen brides across the U.S. border to marry much older men.
But he was not given the mandate to consider polygamy charges, despite a landmark court decision last November that concluded the anti-polygamy law is constitutional.
The government is now expanding Wilson’s powers, Attorney General Shirley Bond said on Monday.
Bond announced that the province will not ask a higher court to review last year’s B.C. Supreme Court decision, and that’s opened the door for potential charges. The decision found that the harm polygamy causes to women and children outweighs the law’s violation of the right to religious freedom.
Provincial lawyers say the lower court ruling is powerful enough to support criminal charges against those in polygamous relationships without getting the opinion of a higher court, Bond said.
“The true victims of polygamy are the women and children this trial court decision protects,” Bond said in a statement.
She said the province weighed the consideration to appeal against the impact of more court proceedings involving people engaged in polygamy.
Wilson will now independently review any information brought forward from the ongoing RCMP investigation to determine if the evidence warrants going ahead with polygamy or other charges, Bond said.
Even before the polygamy decision was released last year, Mounties sent investigators to the United States when criminal allegations surfaced during the court case.
The court heard that more than two dozen girls as young as 12 were shipped south to marry older men, including Warren Jeffs, the once-powerful leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Jeffs has since been sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two teenage girls.
Two leaders of a breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful were charged in 2009 with practising polygamy, but those charges were thrown out on a technicality. The case, involving Winston Blackmore and James Oler, triggered the constitutional reference and uncovered the movement of the child brides.
Blackmore is also fighting allegations in federal Tax Court that he should have claimed and extra $1.5 million in income over five years starting in 2000.
Blackmore believes his community should have special tax status, such as those in Hutterite communities have in Canada.
He told the Tax Court in January that he had 22 wives and at least 67 children.