Ottawa Citizen

Polygamy ruling doesn’t help women

Archaic view of monogamy breached privacy and choice, says Bev Baines.

- Bev Baines is a professor in the faculty of law, Queen’s University.

On Monday, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan publicly “outed” 29 women as potential criminals because of their religious and lifestyle choices. To justify convicting their two “husbands” of polygamy, Justice Donegan objectifie­d these women by exposing intimate details of their lives.

We now know their names, when they were born, their age at “marriage,” who they “married” and their age when their first child was born. All exposed to public view without their consent and absent any criminal charges yet lodged against them.

The “crime” for 24 of them was that they “married” Winston Blackmore; and for five of them, that they “married” James Oler. They lived and many still live in polygamous relationsh­ips in British Columbia. Their potential crimes derive from the same relationsh­ips that served to convict their husbands.

Yet Canada justifies criminaliz­ing polygamy on the grounds of protecting women and children. This crime supposedly promotes the equality of these vulnerable persons, according to federal and provincial rhetoric.

In the earlier B.C. polygamy case, the 2011 Polygamy Reference, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Richard Bauman went further. He also upheld the constituti­onality of criminaliz­ing polygamy to protect the institutio­n of monogamous marriage.

He elaborated that “monogamous marriage is the best way to ensure paternal certainty and joint parental investment in children.” In other words, it protects men and men’s bloodlines. Suddenly the women disappear.

Even if we forget the women who, other than one, had no voice in the evidence presented at the recent trial, what of the children? Their births are now recorded in Madame Justice Donegan’s decision for all to see. Will their classmates, office mates, housemates, friends, neighbours and colleagues now taunt them with the facts of their non-monogamous actual and potential criminal parentage?

Practition­ers of polygamy commit crimes, underage marriage, kidnapping, assault and sexual assault, just like those of us who participat­e in monogamous marriages. There are Criminal Code provisions that address these crimes, as the husband who allegedly stabbed his pregnant wife and murdered their newborn child this past weekend in Montreal will discover.

Do we have to accept that women in polygamous relationsh­ips and their children are collateral damage of a province and nation imbued with archaic monogamous ideology?

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