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Is polygamy constitutional? BC court rules this week

Appeal all but certain as Bountiful commune case puts Charter to test.

It's been a long time coming, but an answer -- or at least an initial answer -- will come Wednesday when the BC Supreme Court rules on whether Canada's polygamy laws violate the Charter of Rights.

It's a complex case that caught the public's attention and has grabbed headlines for years, as the province tried to prosecute leaders of the polygamous religious commune in Bountiful, B.C.

The matter was finally referred to the courts for a Charter ruling. During the hearing in January, the province argued that polygamy constituted a kind of abuse for the women and children who live in the commune. The group itself argued for its religious freedom.

Either way, given the fundamental nature of the decision, an appeal is expected to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Canadian Press has the latest details:

VANCOUVER -- A British Columbia court is set to rule this week whether Canada's 121-year-old polygamy law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The provincial government asked B.C. Supreme to weigh the constitutionality of the law following the failed prosecutions of two religious leaders in the polygamous commune of Bountiful.

The court finished hearing evidence and arguments in April, after testimony from a range of experts, former polygamist women who recounted stories of abuse, and current plural wives who insisted they were happy with their lives.

The judge who heard the case will issue his ruling on Wednesday, although whatever the outcome, legal observers expect it will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

At trial, government lawyers argued polygamy inevitably leads to a long list of harms, including physical and sexual abuse, child brides, the subjugation of women, and the expulsion of young men who can't find brides.

Lawyers for Bountiful residents and civil liberties advocates argued the law violates the charter's religious guarantees, and any alleged crimes can be punished under other criminal laws.

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