Media Releases

Media Advisory: British Columbia Supreme Court to rule on constitutionality of polygamy prohibition

November 23, 2011

Van­cou­ver – On Wednes­day, Novem­ber 23, 2011, the British Colum­bia Supreme Court will release its deci­sion in the Polygamy Ref­er­ence case. The deci­sion will be made avail­able on the British Colum­bia Supreme Court’s web­site after 10:00 a.m. (PST) or 1:00 p.m. (EST):

The Court will pro­vide its opin­ion on whether the pro­hi­bi­tion against polygamy in the Crim­i­nal Code of Cana­da is con­sti­tu­tion­al by answer­ing the fol­low­ing ref­er­ence ques­tions:

a. Is sec­tion 293 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Cana­da con­sis­tent with the Cana­di­an Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms?  If not, in what par­tic­u­lar or par­tic­u­lars and to what extent?

b. What are the nec­es­sary ele­ments of the offence in sec­tion 293 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Cana­da?  With­out lim­it­ing this ques­tion, does sec­tion 293 require that the polygamy or con­ju­gal union in ques­tion involved a minor, or occurred in a con­text of depen­dence, exploita­tion, abuse of author­i­ty, a gross imbal­ance of pow­er, or undue influ­ence?

The Cana­di­an Coali­tion for the Rights of Chil­dren (CCRC) and the David Asper Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights (the Asper Cen­tre) were inter­ven­ers in the case. They argued that the rights of chil­dren need to be seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered and that when children’s rights are seri­ous­ly vio­lat­ed by the prac­tice of polygamy, it is jus­ti­fied to pro­hib­it the prac­tice under crim­i­nal law. The CCRC and Asper Cen­tre addressed what rights chil­dren have and how those rights are vio­lat­ed by the sus­tained incul­ca­tion and prac­tice of polygamy in close com­mu­ni­ties, such as in Boun­ti­ful, BC.

The ref­er­ence ques­tions were put before the court by the Attor­ney Gen­er­al of British Colum­bia fol­low­ing a stay of pro­ceed­ings in the polygamy pros­e­cu­tions of Win­ston Black­more and James Oler of the Boun­ti­ful com­mu­ni­ty in British Colum­bia.

Brent Olthuis and Stephanie McHugh of Hunter Lit­i­ga­tion Cham­bers, and Cheryl Milne, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Asper Cen­tre, rep­re­sent­ed the Asper Cen­tre and the CCRC. The argu­ment they filed in the case is avail­able at:

Coun­sel for the inter­ven­ers, Brent Olthuis and Cheryl Milne, and Kathy Van­der­grift, Chair of CCRC will be avail­able for inter­views.


Van­cou­ver: Brent Olthuis, (Coun­sel) Hunter Lit­i­ga­tion Cham­bers :  or 604–649-7966

Toron­to: Cheryl Milne, (Coun­sel) Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Asper Cen­tre: or 416–978-0092

Ottawa: Kathy Van­der­grift, Chair, CCRC : or 613- 820‑0272