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Megapundit Extra: What do a backwoods polygamist and an Ontario CabMin have in common?


 

Over at the National Post‘s Full Comment blog, John Turley-Ewart brings our attention to an intriguing exchange from yesterday’s Question Period at the Ontario Legislature:

Ms. Lisa MacLeod (PC MPP for Nepean–Carlton): To the minister responsible for women’s issues: Can she inform this House where she stands on Toronto’s dirty little secret, the illegal polygamous marriages that are taking place right under her nose at the expense of gender equality in Ontario?

[Through the vagaries of parliamentary procedure, the question is redirected to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services.]

Hon. Ted McMeekin: Polygamy is a serious crime in Ontario. It’s not something that’s tolerated. As you know, the best advice I can give the honourable member opposite is that if she has any evidence that someone is engaging in multiple marriages, she should report it, because our Registrar General and our official reporting mechanisms have no evidence that that’s happening.

As you know, marriage is a contract. A contract requires a licence. Once a marriage occurs, it has to be registered. There are no multiple marriages being registered in the province of Ontario.

“In essence,” an unimpressed Turley-Ewart comments, “Ontario’s government is turning a blind eye to the practice as long as imams like [Aly] Hindy do not attempt to register the marriages under Ontario law.”

Indeed. And McMeekin is keeping very odd company in making such an argument—notably that of Winston Blackmore, Canada’s best-known and not-so-much-loved polygamist. “I hope our government has enough respect for the freedoms of its citizens to not allow a Texas-style religious persecution to happen under the skinny pretext that some polygamy law meant anything to anyone,” he told The Globe and Mail this week. “Hell, none of us are even married under definition of the law, and most don’t fit the definition of a common-law relationship either.”

It’s a nice piece of diversionary circular logic: polygamy means being married to more than one person at the same time; you’re not officially married in Canada without the government’s imprimatur; polygamists can’t get said imprimatur; thus, they aren’t married; thus, they can’t be polygamists.

The only problem with this argument… is the actual law against polygamy, whose authors seem to have anticipated the lengths to which tremulous politicians of the future might go to avoid enforcing it. Section 293 of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

Every one who

(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise 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.

Like it or not, that’s the law. If Ontario wants to avoid it, we suggest it abandon this particular line of polygamist logic and take a lesson from British Columbia: talk tough when cornered, then do absolutely nothing until cornered again.

(UPDATE: We note that Turley-Ewart’s post now contains pretty much exactly the point we made above. So either you wasted your time reading this, or you wasted your time reading that.)


 

Megapundit Extra: What do a backwoods polygamist and an Ontario CabMin have in common?

  1. Regarding the statute clause: “(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,”
    I think it is fairly self-evident that this is not being enforced among people who aren’t *calling* their relationship marriage. That is, if you’re in an “open marriage” or, frankly, just sleeping around a lot with the same people, you’re not expecting the cops to come and haul you away. (Hey, even Capital Xtra had a cover story on polyamory last week, displayed in free boxes all over downtown Ottawa — were they sanctioning a criminal offence (itself and offence)?) You can’t have one standard for the free-lovers and another for religious groups.

    Frankly, I think the state is in a position whereby it must restrict its interpretation of polygamy to cases where multiple spouses are trying to avail themselves of the state-bestowed or law/contract-bestowed benefits of marriage (tax credits, pensions, insurance benefits, etc). If people stay away from that, how can you convict?

    I’m not necessarily happy with this, but I think that’s the position we’re in.

  2. The question as I see it is whether polyamory, open marriages or “just sleeping around a lot with the same people” represent “conjugal unions.” I think it would be tough to argue they do. And I think it would be well-nigh impossible to argue that the fundie-Mormon households in Bountiful, for example, don’t.

  3. “the state is in a position whereby it must restrict its interpretation of polygamy to cases where multiple spouses are trying to avail themselves of the state-bestowed or law/contract-bestowed benefits of marriage (tax credits, pensions, insurance benefits, etc)”

    I thought that was exactly what was happening, hence the recent interest in polygamy and the Muslim population.

  4. @Chris: What’s the definition of a conjugal union? What’s the test for determining whether people in a sexual relationship are “united”?

    @jad: I haven’t been paying super-close attention to the debate, but so far, I’ve only seen “marriage” being discussed. No one has been separating out the religious benefits of marriage from the secular benefits. Maybe I’m wrong about that.

  5. I think there’s an important difference between open marriages or swinging & religious-based polygamy. Essentially, religions that allow polygamy mostly don’t believe in women’s rights. Multiple marriages are allowed because women are possessions. You can have more than one, just like you can have more than one car or TV. Open marriages imply a level of equality.

    In a way, you could argue that sleeping around in a marriage is illegal to the person in the marriage who makes the most money. You can divorce them and the government will enforce support payments.

    We had the “Law of Canada” versus the “Law of Religion” conflict not that long ago, when the Catholic Church threatened to excommunicate any politician who voted in favour of same-sex marriage. The Church demanded we overturn democratic constitutional rights as confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. In that case, the Constitution won.

    I don’t see any reason against this standard being applied equally to all religions. In a democracy, you have the right to decide which religious laws you obey, but not which secular laws. Secular laws are democratic laws. Religious laws aren’t. Frankly, anyone who claims that the Law of God overrides Canadian law, whether they’re the Pope, an iman, or a crazy self-styled prophet, is a threat to Canadian democracy.

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