Harm to children top priority in polygamy rulings

B.C. Supreme Court upheld previous rulings protecting rights of children and women

It is good news for children that B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan rejected an appeal of the conviction of Winston Blackmore and James Oler on charges of polygamy on March 9, 2018. Blackmore and Oler, leaders of the polygamous FLDS community in Bountiful, B.C., were convicted of polygamy in July 2017. The harm done to children was a primary consideration in the 2011 B.C. Supreme Court reference case that decided polygamy should remain illegal in Canada.  

Abuse of children is never justified. The attempt to make this a case of religious freedom, while ignoring the violations of the rights of children, was troubling. The arguments of Blackmore and Oler that they were only practicing their religion and did not know their actions were illegal ignored any consideration of their duty to protect the rights of children under their care.

In addition to giving high priority to the children’s right to protection from harm, the 2011 ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bauman specifically recognized that governments have a positive obligation to prevent violations of the rights of children by others in society.

Blackmore and Oler may try to appeal their decision to the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds of religious freedom. If not, they will begin to serve sentences for polygamy and hopefully the government of B.C. will turn its attention to implementing other aspects of the 2011 ruling.  

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, which Kathy Vandergrift chairs, had intervenor status in the 2011 Polygamy Reference case to inform the court about children’s rights. 

Short Creek reclaimed


  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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