Polygamy in Canada

Not every family law attorney deals with cases of polygamy. Here in Cincinnati, it is not a subject which we usually address. As it is a subject related to marriage and family, areas of law that we happen to work within, we are always curious to see how such cases play out in other states and other countries.

A recent article in The Economist looked at polygamy and “plural marriage” as it manifests itself in the Great White North.

Canada had a high-profile polygamy case this year which did not receive much press in the lower forty-eight.

In the town of Bountiful, British Columbia, a man named Winston Blackmore is said by some to have 148 children, by a bevy of wives.

Before we discuss Blackmore’s 2017 conviction, however, let us step back at look at the broader historical arc.

In 1890, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormons or LDS, renounced polygamy. At the time, many Mormon families built around plural marriage left the United States – the country where the church was founded and based – and headed north to Canada.

Two years later, in 1892, Canada established a law outlawing polygamy.

For the 117 years that followed, this law was never enforced. No family law attorney is known to have worked on such a case in the 1900s. According to The Economist, “authorities had been wary of laying such charges for fear of a constitutional challenge.” A 2009 British Columbia ruling regarding freedom of religion, however, cleared the way for such challenges.

Many of the resulting cases proved to not involve Mormons, but rather Muslim immigrants from the Philippines, Iran, and Pakistan. Polygamy is legal for Muslims in each of those three countries, and all three countries were among the top five “source countries” for immigrants to Canada in 2015.

The Blackmore case is still in Canadian appeals court, and we will continue to follow its progress.