Polygamy should be decriminalized
The British Columbia Supreme Court will rule later this year whether or not Canada’s current laws declaring polygamy a criminal offense are constitutionally valid. In doing so, they are to decide how far constitutional rights exist in Canada before they “harm society.”
In truth, any law banning polygamy harms society by weakening individual liberty and perpetuating a state-controlled family model, two concepts that should be rejected by Canadians.
The time has come to decriminalize polygamy in Canada.
This law has had a deteriorating effect on individual liberties in this country, even if most of us may not realize it. Section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code takes away individual freedom of association and allows the government to take on the position of a relationship caregiver.
Government involvement is necessary in cases of abuse but legislating against polygamy is different because it restricts individual liberties. Current laws restrict adults in how they define their own relationships rather than letting adults engage in their own relationships.
Worse yet is that it in modern times it has been made out as a law that uses the sacrifice of these liberties in order to battle spousal abuse, a false assumption that has been used to stretch the law well beyond its original purpose.
The same law declaring polygamy illegal has been on the books for more than 120 years. Championed by our first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, its sole purpose was to drive out or assimilate Mormons settling in Canada during the late 1800s.
Our laws, however, should neither be based on the bigoted ideas of the 19th century nor on a morally bankrupt prime minister who repeatedly showed up to parliament drunk. Canadians should no longer accept legal moralism as a reason to control the relationships of consenting adults.
However, there are proponents of this law who oppose change. They argue that it prevents spousal and child abuse. In reality, the law has not done a single thing to prevent either of these crimes, especially given that one cannot solely attribute a successful conviction to this law in 60 years.
It has not singularly managed to convict anyone in that time, even despite the fact that the second section of the law ignores a fundamental legal principle that states that the prosecutors legal burden of proof be beyond a reasonable doubt.
What proponents of the law fail to accept is the idea that the government not be in the business of forcing adults to submit to its idea of an ideal family.
Past attempts at forcibly assimilating residents of Canada into an idealized model of living led to the numerous abuses and hardships faced by natives in our residential school system. Let otherwise innocent people live as they want to; monogamy should not be considered a basic expectation of those who reside in Canada.
What this law has managed to do is tie up the court system in British Columbia with unnecessary trials, which — while likely to the benefit of many lawyers — is ultimately at the expense of victims of real crimes.
It also likely contributed to the formation and success of isolated polygamist communities like Bountiful in British Columbia, which if anything has only contributed to the difficulties faced by women in polygamist relationships.
Instead of trying to forcibly stop polygamy with ancient laws, the government and charitable organizations should endeavour — through financial and psychological assistance — to make it easier for individuals to leave fundamentalist religious movements. The end of polygamy in Canada should come by the choice of those who practice it, not by the tilted scales of lady justice.