Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Polys in Court - Week 2 Professor Angela Campbell summary

Reminder that I am not in court for the next few weeks but I am commenting based on transcripts.
The case of constitutionality of section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada or "the polygamy law" was heard Tuesday to Friday this week(Nov 30 to Dec 3).

The BC AG and the court staff have set up a room in the court house for print copies of all the materials submitted as evidence in this case for reference only (not to be removed from the room) and copies can be requested of anything not on the internet.

The first day was a "voir dire" with Professor Angela Campbell of McGill University on the stand being questioned on her qualifications as an expert witness. She is a professor of law, Director of McGill law school and the Institute of Comparative Law. The latter is a graduate studies program that compares law across jurisdictions, legal traditions and disciplines. She also conducts academic research most recently in the area of women in Polygamy. She has written many papers and been published in academic journals. While doing one such paper commissioned by the Status of Women Commission she observed that there was very little primary source research regarding the experiences of women in polygamy in North American and especially in Canada. Prof Campbell had been contacted by some women of the Bountiful area when working on that paper and was not able for time and budget reasons to pursue interviews with them at the time. When she received funding to do a second paper she contacted those women again and others who had been outspoken on websites and in the media via Canada 411. As she began interviews in Bountiful others came forward. She did not seek assistance from community leaders for suggestions on participants in her research. 22 women in total were interviewed about their experiences of polygamy.

The next day the court heard the testimony of Prof Angela Campbell, having ruled that she did qualify as an expert. Prof Campbell discussed her affidavits of observations while doing research at Bountiful. She said that the background of polygamy in the context of the FLDS religion is where polygamy was seen as one of the steps towards Celestial glory and that the law of God would have more influence than the law of the land if there were a conflict. She learned that historically it was not uncommon for adolescents of 15 or 16 to be married but that this had been discouraged in recent years to age of adulthood or later. Historically the marriages were arranged and the new spouses did not necessarily know each other at all prior to the wedding but this has also changed and spouses will most often choose each other after a long period of courting each other. This is seen as resulting in happier marriages. Regarding family planning and contraception, she observed that the women talk amongst themselves and manage families such that the wear of too many children too close together is kept under control. Younger women have busier lives and don't have the time to handle families as large as their mother's and grandmother's and this is acknowledged.

The children of the community expressed strong bonds with their biological mothers but also a bond of protection was indicated with relation to their biological mother's sister wives who they refer to as Mother X or Mother Y etc. Children within a household whether full or half-siblings viewed each other as siblings with the same commonalities and rivalries as found in monogamous households. The bond between sister wives was noted as something of importance for the women interviewed. A division of labour occurs in the household and in the community as well as the support and companionship amongst the women. Some of the hard parts of being in a plural marriage were expressed as jealousy and competition amongst the women for the time, attention and resources of the shared husband. Lack of space of one's own is an issue and sometimes resolved by one of the women moving to a house of her own with her children. And thirdly, while the sense of sharing responsibilities and labour is strong it stops at disciplining another women's children. That is not a welcomed behaviour and causes much conflict. She noted that the women of the community do not all dress in the traditional fashion seen in the media but that some wear jeans and t-shirts, have pierced ears and wear minimal makeup. Work and education were seen as in the context of what is good for the community and what is good for the prophet so that you plan to generate your own wealth or educate yourself but as a way to give back to the community. Common vocations for women were nursing, midwifery, teaching, care giving, and service industry or working in the shops in nearby towns. Higher education is pursued by women but usually after they've had their children. The other wives support the study of each other which happens in neighbouring communities and US institutions. The people of Bountiful also access services in neighbouring communities like groceries that are benign and would not spot light them as being polygamists so they won't access marital counseling for instance.With regards to the fundamental inequality of polygamy in that one man may have many wives but the wives may have only the one husband shared, Prof Campbell noted that her interviewees did not see that way but felt sorry for the man who is outnumbered and if the women want something in solidarity they get it.They valued this plural arrangement for its religious and social context. As to abuse and sexual assault, they respondents said that it should be targeted and dealt with appropriately with law enforcement. In discussion of the children and youth, Prof Campbell said that she did not hear of an effort to push young men out of the community nor did she notice any disproportionate number of females to males.

The remainder of the day was spent cross-examining Prof. Campbell and while interesting, those points will come up in primary testimony with other experts and I'll not note them here.

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