Media Releases

Rights of children need consideration in polygamy reference

November 19, 2010

TORONTO, ON — The rights of chil­dren need to be seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered dur­ing the polygamy ref­er­ence case before the Supreme Court of British Colum­bia. This is the pri­ma­ry mes­sage in the posi­tion that the Cana­di­an Coali­tion for the Rights of Chil­dren (CCRC) and the David Asper Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights (DACCR) at the Uni­ver­si­ty of  Toron­to Fac­ul­ty of Law will put before Chief Jus­tice Robert Bau­man at the com­mence­ment of the hear­ing on Novem­ber 22, 2010.

“Con­cern about chil­dren is com­mon,” said Kathy Van­der­grift, Chair of the CCRC, “but the court needs to take seri­ous­ly the fact that chil­dren are per­sons with rights and gov­ern­ments are oblig­at­ed to respect and pro­tect those rights, also for chil­dren in polyg­a­mous com­mu­ni­ties.”

The rights of chil­dren need spe­cif­ic atten­tion under the Cana­di­an Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms. “This case is impor­tant, said Cheryl Milne, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the David Asper Cen­ter, “because it will shape how Cana­da inter­prets the Con­sti­tu­tion in light of inter­na­tion­al legal oblig­a­tions to chil­dren rat­i­fied by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and endorsed by the provinces.”

The CCRC/DACCR open­ing state­ment puts before the court 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.  When children’s rights are seri­ous­ly vio­lat­ed by the prac­tice of polygamy, argue the CCRC/DACCR, it is jus­ti­fied to pro­hib­it the prac­tice under crim­i­nal law. If the court finds that mul­ti­ple mar­riage part­ners under some cir­cum­stances should not be con­sid­ered a crime, ade­quate laws are need­ed to pro­tect the rights of chil­dren in those fam­i­lies.

The CCRC and DACC argue that the rights of chil­dren in polyg­a­mous com­mu­ni­ties are at high risk in the fol­low­ing ways:
•    sex­u­al exploita­tion of young girls;
•    exploita­tive use of boys’ and girls’ labour;
•    fail­ure to ful­fill girls’ and boys’ rights to edu­ca­tion and equal­i­ty rights;
•    inad­e­quate child pro­tec­tion mech­a­nisms and  unrea­son­able risk of child abuse;
•    denial of children’s rights to free­doms of reli­gion, thought and self-expres­sion, and their right to be have their views con­sid­ered;  and
•    remov­ing chil­dren from moth­ers to pun­ish the moth­ers with­out due con­sid­er­a­tion of the best inter­ests of the chil­dren.

The high risks for chil­dren are preva­lent in the evi­dence brought by all par­ties.  In addi­tion, CCRC/DACCR want the court to con­sid­er the find­ings of inter­na­tion­al stud­ies, includ­ing those of UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teurs on Free­dom of Reli­gion, which con­clude that rights to reli­gious free­dom, cul­tur­al rights, and pri­va­cy rights can­not be used to jus­ti­fy prac­tices that put the rights of chil­dren at risk.

The lawyers for CCRC and DACCR are Hunter Lit­i­ga­tion Cham­bers in Van­cou­ver.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Cheryl Milne, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor
David Asper Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights

Kathy Van­der­grift, Chair
Cana­di­an Coali­tion for the Rights of Chil­dren
613- 820‑0272