Times Colonist

Lawyer to examine polygamist group

Special prosecutor will assess Bountiful case to determine if charges warranted

- TIFFANY CRAWFORD

A lawyer has been appointed to assess whether charges should be laid against members of a polygamist community in Bountiful.

The province’s attorney general has appointed lawyer Terrence Robertson to act as an independen­t special prosecutor and to conduct a charge assessment in the case, saying he wants a more “aggressive approach.”

“I happen to think the law regarding polygamy is a valid law and if people are violating it then it’s up to us to prosecute,” Wally Oppal told a news conference in Vancouver yesterday.

Robertson will essentiall­y look at two aspects: If there is evidence of polygamy and if there is evidence of sexual abuse at the colony. Robertson is the third lawyer to be appointed to probe the case. The problem in the past has been a lack of witnesses and concern prosecutio­n would violate provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Oppal would not say whether new evidence of sexual abuse has come to light but said the “complex” case needs to be probed because Canadians believe there is “something going on that’s improper or immoral.”

“The evidence is there regarding polygamy,” said Oppal. “The question is whether or not it is constituti­onal.”

Oppal said he disagreed with lawyer Len Doust who, after he was appointed to review the case, said in May that prosecutio­n of the polygamist sect would be “unfair.”

Almost three-quarters of British Columbians want polygamist­s in Bountiful prosecuted for breaking the law, according to a poll released in April.

The results from the crosscount­ry survey, conducted by Angus Reid Strategies, showed 72 per cent of respondent­s in B.C. said they would support Oppal taking legal action against those practising polygamy.

Critics say Bountiful, home to about 1,500 fundamenta­list Mormons who practise polygamy, is rife with abuse, with young women in their teens forced to marry much older men.

Meanwhile, a U.S. judge ruled yesterday that more than 400 children taken from a Texas polygamous sect will be returned to their families immediatel­y, two months after they were seized over abuse allegation­s.

A Texas court ordered that the state must surrender custody of the children to their legal guardians starting yesterday afternoon, until all the children have been returned.

The order requires that they remain in Texas and that the parents co-operate with the ongoing investigat­ion into charges of systemic sexual abuse among members of the Fundamenta­list Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that one Canadian was involved in the Texas raid. It is uncertain whether that person, believed to be a teenager, has been returned to Canada.

Child welfare officials seized the 416 children from the Yearning for Zion ranch earlier last month over fears that young teenage girls were being coerced into marrying, and in some cases being sexually abused by, much older men.

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