Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

November 14, 2009

Canadian legal action: a call for polys to testify

As previously reported here, Canadian authorities are asking a court to rule that Canada's 19th-century anti-polygamy law — which provides five years in prison for polygamy or for living in a polygamous-like household or relationship, or for assisting at a group-marriage-like ceremony — is legal and enforceable today.

The long-forgotten law criminalizes most of today's poly households in Canada. In response, organizers of the Vancouver polyamory group Vanpoly are seeking Canadian polyamorists to file written affadavits, and/or speak at an upcoming hearing, on whether the law should be enforced or struck down as a violation of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

Call for Intervenors

November 13, 2009

Court case: Upcoming BC Government’s Court Reference on the Criminalization of Polygamy and Group Marriages

The BC government will shortly put a question to the Court to test the constitutionality of Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which criminalizes people who practice polygamy or enter into any kind of “conjugal union” (i.e. a common-law marriage) with more than one person at the same time. Intervenors will have as little as 3 weeks to respond with court applications and affidavits.

It is important that polyamorists who are interested in being married to more than one person, or are living with more than one person, make the court aware of their interests and the legal arguments that the law is unconstitutional, because it infringes their Canadian Charter rights of association, religion (i.e. Wiccan or Pagan), equality, and the life, liberty and security of the person. It is not appropriate for a law which criminalizes loving, committed, consensual relationships to remain on the books, even if it is not presently being enforced. The more polyamorous interveners there are, the more strongly the court will hear this position.


Who are we?

We are individual members of the Vancouver polyamory community and are active members or coordinators in Vanpoly (www.vanpoly.ca), who have joined together to coordinate an intervention by polyamorists so that the court can hear our stories and arguments. We have experience in organizing politically and legally. One of our members has offered to act as pro bono legal counsel and has successful experience in mounting constitutional challenges to Canada’s criminal code. We are also liaising with other civil and legal rights groups who are also following the BC government closely in this matter.

What are the steps in the process?

First, and as soon as possible, we need to identify potential intervenors and get their stories. When the government asks the court about the legality of this legislation, we want to be ready to finalize the sworn statements of intervenors and apply to the court within the 3 week period. If our application to the court is accepted, we will then prepare legal arguments in support of the above position, that it is not appropriate for a law which criminalizes loving, committed, consensual relationships to remain on the books. It is expected that this process will need to go very quickly.

Qualifications of an Intervenor

We are in immediate need of identifying as many potential intervenors as possible so that polyamory can be properly represented.

If you are a Canadian Resident:

1) currently living with multiple partners in a conjugal (marital or marital-like) relationships, or

2) have engaged in polyamorous relationships either in the past or currently AND have a desire to live with multiple partners in a conjugal (marital or marital-like) relationships in the future

then we ask you to email us.
While we are interested in hearing from ALL people who fit the above criteria, we are especially interested in having at least one female in a MFF (male-female- female) grouping.

What would it mean to be an intervenor?

1. You would need to give legal counsel some facts as to your polyamorous lifestyle which would be written up in a statement, which you will be asked to swear on oath is true. This statement would be filed in court. Your name and your address along with the statements in your affidavit would then be public. However, you would NOT need to name your partners.

2. You may find that your name and other information in your affidavit is in the news. You would NOT need to speak to media or answer their questions, as you could refuse to respond to any media enquiries.

3. You would NOT need to incur court costs. You would need to pay for the affidavit to be sworn if you are in a city other than Vancouver. (If this is a concern, please advise and we will look for donations toward the cost.)

Who do I contact for more information or to offer to be an intervenor?

Please email Melly at ms.mellyn (AT) gmail. com.

Thank you for your attention to this.

Note that pro bono legal counsel is available.

Some background: Here is the fundamentalist-Mormon polygamy case in British Columbia that resurrected the law, here is news of how and why the case was thrown out, and here is news of the authorities, including the federal Canadian government, now moving to establish the law's validity and enforceability.

And here is the law in question, in its entirety (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.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I reading this correctly - if no proof of a sexual or intention for a sexual relationship is required, does that mean that living with my husband and our two room-mates and sharing parenting and other family responsibilities with them could be prosecuted under this law?

Poly but living platonically,
Hamilton, ON

November 16, 2009 11:04 AM  
Anonymous GeekFox said...

the "Evidence in case of polygamy" seems to suggest that even non poly people living with several roommates, such as students living in dormitories and people who have flat-mates would have a lot of trouble to prove themselves innocent once charged. :(

November 16, 2009 11:57 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

> does that mean that living with
> my husband and our two room-mates
> and sharing parenting and other
> family responsibilities with them
> could be prosecuted under this law?

That's the trouble with a law like this. It was never meant for situations like yours, but it's so broadly written that if taken literally, it might apply to you. So your safety against prosecution depends on your local prosecutor's common sense and good will -- and his fear of public outrage -- not on the law itself.

In other words, society trusts that such a law will be selectively enforced against the people "everyone knows" are its real targets, and that it will be ignored in the case of everyone else.

Which was exactly how this law originated. It was written at a time of religious prejudice and hysteria against Mormons. The documentation surrounding its writing make clear that it was motivated by explicit religious prejudice that would not be legally permissible now.

November 16, 2009 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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November 17, 2009 1:45 PM  
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November 20, 2009 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Persons can already "live" in multiples, they just can't claim to be spouses to others without divorcing or living seperately (from a common law conjugal union)
In Saskatchewan polygamy is allowed though.

November 27, 2009 2:55 PM  

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