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Looking for Bountiful problems

VANCOUVER - A new special prosecutor has been appointed to look into allegations involving the religious commune of Bountiful, B.C., but his mandate doesn't include considering charges of practising polygamy.

Instead, Peter Wilson has been appointed to consider charges related to the movement of teen brides across the U.S. border to marry much older men, the province's criminal justice branch announced in a news release Wednesday.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled last month that the Criminal Code prohibition on polygamy is constitutional as long as it's not used to prosecute children.

The attorney general has yet to say how her ministry will respond to that decision, but the news release announcing Wilson's appointment makes it clear polygamy charges aren't currently on the table.

"At this time, Mr. Wilson's mandate does not include consideration of polygamy-related offences," said the release.

Specifically, Wilson has been asked to look into potential charges including sexual assault, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, procuring prohibited sexual activity and failure to report a child in need of protection, among others.

A previous prosecutor announced this month he was no longer interested in working on the case, prompting the government to announce it would be appointing a replacement.

Two leaders in Bountiful were charged in 2009 with practising polygamy, but a judge threw out those charges because of how the province chose its special prosecutors.

Rather than appeal, the B.C. government launched a constitutional reference case to determine whether the anti-polygamy law violated the religious guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Residents of Bountiful are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which teaches that multiple marriage will allow them to reach a higher level of heaven. The FLDS is a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

The constitutional case heard allegations that dozens of girls as young as 12 were spirited across the U.S. border to marry men decades older than them, while several American girls were moved to Bountiful.

Those revelations prompted the RCMP to launch a renewed investigation focusing specifically on the movement of children over the border. The Mounties have confirmed their investigation isn't looking into multiple marriage.

In the end, Justice Robert Bauman concluded the law does violate the right to religious freedom, but the harm that polygamy causes to women and children outweighed that violation.

A lawyer appointed to oppose the government in the case announced last month he will not appeal.

 

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