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.

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For more information, please contact:

Cheryl Milne, Executive Director
David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights
cheryl.milne@utoronto.ca
416-978-0092/416-540-7619(mobile)

Kathy Vandergrift, Chair
Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
kathyvandergrift@rogers.com
613- 820-0272