Prosecutor rejects charges in Bountiful sex abuse case

Globe and Mail Update

Vancouver — An independent special prosecutor has rejected the idea of criminal charges over allegations of sexual abuse involving members of a polygamist sect in the southeastern B.C. community of Bountiful, and instead recommended the constitutionality of the Criminal Code section on polygamy should be tested in the courts.

Richard Peck, asked in May to consider the issue B.C.'s criminal justice branch, handed down his recommendations today.

He was tasked to look at issues around Bountiful, home of members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect that practices polygamy though it is illegal in Canada. B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal has described action against polygamy in the community as a foremost priority.

Mr. Peck called a reference to the B.C. Court of Appeal – “with a probable further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada” – the “preferable approach” to an outright prosecution over conduct in the community in southeastern B.C.

“The legality of polygamy in Canada has, for too long, been characterized by uncertainty,” he wrote in a report, sections of which were released to the media. “The integrity of the legal system suffers from such an impasse and an authoritative statement from the courts is necessary in order to resolve it.”

Mr. Peck, a Vancouver lawyer, noted that polygamy has long been illegal in Canada, and is currently illegal under section 293 of the Criminal Code.

“However, prosecutions under this law have been exceedingly rare.”

In 1990 and 2006, police recommended charges against individuals in Bountiful, but the Crown ruled out the idea because, in 1990, of fears that the polygamy ban would be struck down by the courts as an unjustifiable infringement of religious freedoms protected by the Charter and, in 2006, because the available evidence left four senior Crowns assigned to review the file with the view that there was not a substantial likelihood of conviction.

“After an extensive study of the relevant material, I have come to the conclusion that polygamy itself is at the root of the problem,” writes Mr. Peck. “Polygamy is the underlying phenomenon from which all the other alleged harms flow, and the public interest would best be served by addressing it directly.”

Mr. Peck has agreed to go to court to act in any proceedings that result from his recommendations.

Mr. Oppal was scheduled to respond this afternoon to Mr. Peck's conclusions.