On Monday morning November 22nd, arguments will begin in a Vancouver courtroom to test the legality of Canada's 120-year old anti-polygamy and anti-polyamory law.
The law, written against Mormons in 1890, has apparently not been enforced in a lifetime and seems to conflict with Canada's newer Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now authorities are forcing the issue, following allegations that Mormon polygamist leaders are abusing women and minors in a fundamentalist sect in Bountiful, British Columbia.
There are no defendants in the case. This is a "reference case" being brought by the two Attorneys General of British Columbia and of Canada. They are seeking to establish that the law itself is valid under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, presumably so that they can prosecute the leaders in Bountiful for having more than one wife. (Attempts to get at the alleged abuses directly have failed, since no one involved will testify.)
Polyamorists have a dog in this fight because the Canadian law is written so broadly that it includes them too, even if they make no claim to have more than one marriage — and even, the law states, if they never have sex. The offense consists merely of more than two people pledging a bond or loyalty among themselves, even informally, that could be considered "any kind of conjugal union." A pagan handfasting would certainly qualify. So might simply living together as a family, common-law marriage style. The penalty for this is up to five years in prison. Anyone who assists in forming such a union is also liable for five years in prison.1
The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA)
formed early this year to represent the interests of polyamorists at the trial. It obtained "intervener" status (along with about a dozen various other groups), which will allow it to present its case. Volunteer lawyer John Ince is the CPAA's representative. The group has done a very professional job so far in getting prepared and explaining polyamory to the Canadian media and public. See my previous coverage
(includes this article; scroll down).
I met five of the CPAA people in Seattle a couple weeks ago, at Loving More's Poly Living conference and the summit meeting of the Polyamory Leadership Network
. They are just as smart and impressive in person as online.
The trial is expected to last about 40 days. Whatever the court's decision, the fight will then move to the political realm. Canadians are in for a long debate.
To help get the debate rolling, members of CPAA and the Victoria Poly 101
group will hold a two-hour panel discussion titled "What Is Polyamory?"
next Wednesday, November 17th, at the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC. See press release
Two days ago they got themselves some excellent publicity for the event in Monday Magazine,
Victoria's alternative weekly:
Polyamory panel doesn’t want relationships on trial
By Danielle Pope
The B.C. Supreme Court is trying to snuggle into the beds of Canadians, but it’s getting kind of crowded — especially as the government attempts to make a call on the legality of polyamory. Kiki Christie is the facilitator and founder of Victoria Poly 101 and organizer of the this week’s “What is Polyamory?” discussion panel, which will see an international group of polyamorous experts — including Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association director Zoe Duff, San Francisco sexologist Liam “captain” Snowdon and Cora Bilsker, a Victoria woman specializing in alternative relationships — answer questions from the media and public about the practice of polyamory (loving or being in a romantic relationship with more than one person) and how it differs from polygamy (having more than one spouse at the same time).
Confused? All the better reason to attend. Christie promises it will be an electrifying group affair.
Monday Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in polyamory?
Kiki Christie: I’m a bisexual polyamorous writer and educator living in Victoria who has identified as poly for eight years. I believe that everyone should have the right to design the relationship that works best for them — regardless of the current cultural paradigm — and I’ve spent a lot of time working to acquire the self-knowledge and communication skills to be able to do this effectively and happily. I have partners in Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle, and I live with my two teenage daughters.
...MM: Why is this an important topic for our community to discuss?
KC: We got the idea for a panel discussion because no one person could represent polyamory. More specifically, polyamory is not a practice with prescribed beliefs and customs, so it is important to demonstrate differing viewpoints, lifestyles and opinions. We hope people will leave the event with a much clearer understanding of polyamory and with no misconceptions.... It’s not just about sex. It’s about love. We’re also not looking to “convert” anyone to polyamory, nor do any of us think that this is for everyone. We hope to create a dialogue of acceptance. We hope that monogamous people in the audience might think — perhaps for the first time — about why they have chosen to be monogamous. We believe that ethical, consensual non-monogamy is a choice and a right we should all have.
MM: How do you think polyamory is viewed in Canada right now?
KC: Most of the reactions I’ve gotten from friends and community members when they first hear that I’m polyamorous is that it sounds complicated. I’ve had quite a few curious questions about things like time management, safe sex and whether my kids like having a poly mom (they think it’s pretty great since they enjoy having an extended family of caring adults to talk to and spend time with). The biggest question I get from people is how to deal with jealousy and this is something I always enjoy talking about, because dealing with tough emotions can teach us so much about ourselves. We’ll definitely be talking about this at the panel discussion....
Read the whole article
(Oct. 10, 2010).
This just in:
CPAA member Carole Chanteuse posts to the PolyLegal Yahoo Group,
We have just got the Attorneys Generals' opening arguments.
[Canada's Attorney General] says: polyamory is legal and not included in the definition of what is intended to be banned unless polys actually have an event/ceremony in which you utter marriage-like words.
[BC's Attorney General] says: polyamory is illegal under the law but if that's unconstitutional, then the law can be read to be used against only polygynous (MFF) configurations, since the social-science evidence shows harms in those configurations [among polygamists]. (Thus, lesbians shouldn't worry as much but our bisexual sisters are hooped.)
The CPAA needs your donations
Kamela Dolinova has written a good introduction to the case at her Boston Open Relationships Examiner
: "Polygamists and polyamorists unlikely bedfellows against antiquated Canadian law"; Part 1
, Part 2
1 Here's the complete text of the law in question (Section 293 of Canada's Criminal Code):
(1) Every one who
(a) practices or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practice or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or
(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
Evidence in case of polygamy
(2) Where an accused is charged with an offence under this section, no averment or proof of the method by which the alleged relationship was entered into, agreed to or consented to is necessary in the indictment or on the trial of the accused, nor is it necessary on the trial to prove that the persons who are alleged to have entered into the relationship had or intended to have sexual intercourse.
Labels: Canada, legal