TORONTO, ON November 23, 2011 – The Supreme Court of British Columbia today upheld Canada’s polygamy laws, but said those who enter polygamous unions before the age of 18 should be exempt from prosecution. Except for the ruling that minors should not be criminalized, the decision upholds Section 293 of the Criminal Code. Those advocating legalization had cited religious freedom as justification for the practice of polygamy.
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) is encouraged by the decision especially because it cited the prevention of harm to women, children and society and the preservation of monogamous marriage as important social principles.
Citing jurisprudence that Charter rights can be limited if it is justified by a pressing and substantial objective, the judgment, written by Chief Justice Robert Bauman, stated “Section 293 has as its objective the prevention of harm to women, to children and to society. The prevention of these collective harms associated with polygamy is clearly an objective that is pressing and substantial. The positive side of the prohibition which I have discussed – the preservation of monogamous marriage – similarly represents a pressing and substantial objective for all of the reasons that have seen the ascendance of monogamous marriage as a norm in the West.”
Joanne McGarry, executive director of the CCRL, says: “Very few Canadians would support the legalization of polygamy, given its inherent gender inequality and the loss of the rights of children to a normative relationship with the parents. We’re pleased to see such a strong defense of monogamous marriage written into the decision.”
The judgment is very much in keeping with fundamental Canadian values, Ms. McGarry added. “Should this decision be challenged and overturned on appeal, we hope Parliament would take steps, including use of the “Notwithstanding Clause” if necessary, to keep polygamy illegal.”