Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I read this post today at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law Blog:
Canada = 1984

... it reminds me of a conversation that Jason and I were having the other day about how there are "culturally acceptable" (for lack of a better phrase) things to judge people about, and there are not. I'm thinking that the emotional derision factor plays a huge part here.

Here - culturally acceptable to judge based on these particular political beliefs. You hear about swastikas, and most people recoil in derision. I'm not arguing for one side or the other here, since I personally think this woman is a little off her rocker, but if we're looking at principles ... I can't help but draw a comparison to polygamy. In polygamous scenarios, actual harm has been shown to exist for women and children ... polygamy is ACTUALLY a crime in the Criminal Code of Canada, but because of the religious associations involved, no action is taken. NOT the same type of derision as one associates with Nazi's.

Interesting to see how this will shake out. Slippery slope indeed.

(Not that I'm suggesting that fostering racism isn't harmful, because it is ... just wanted to pick out some points to illustrate a comparison ... especially with a lack of information about the actual facts ... newspaper articles, as we all know, don't always paint the complete picture)


Jeff Milner said...

Actual harm? Maybe for some, but the jury is still out on that one. From the link you provided:

"In view of the foregoing discussion regarding the social, economic and health experiences of polygamy, it is difficult to draw a single, clear conclusion as to whether life in a polygamous marriage is harmful to women. Whether women suffer or benefit from plural marriage actually seems to be the improper query through which to investigate the consequences of polygamy for women, since it is far too general. It implies that women in polygamy share uniform realities, regardless of the communities and cultures in which they live, and regardless of the particular relationships formed within their families."

I'd say the problems associated with polygamous groups such as incest, underage intercourse, or related offences are what cause harm (separate from the specific crime of polygamy) and as such the law should be designed and enforced against polygamous groups specifically when these harmful activities are taking place.

"Others opposed to criminalizing polygamy argue that it is preferable to address the underlying existing criminal behaviours, such as underage intercourse, incest or related offences, rather than to prosecute polygamy. These behaviours, they argue, are at the heart of most people's concerns about polygamy."

If we, as a country, want to police marriages that demean women and neglect children, we're going to be opening a giant can of worms, since—while this hasn't been my personal experience in life—there are a multitude of marriages ripe for prosecution, the least of which fall into the polygamous variety.

Lisa Hutch said...

Hey Jeff,

You make some really good points that I want to address (in a response that ended up being WAY longer than I intended, so bear with me).

If you read the papers that are linked above (which are pretty long, some at over 50 pages, you have to click the Acrobat link under the Alternate Formats heading in the left-hand toolbar), they go into some detail about the harms that women and children undergo through polygamous marriages that have been examined. These include various things including the displacement of young boys from polygamous communities, problems with access to education etc. The Nicholas Bala piece goes into it in a lot more detail.

My intention with this post, though, wasn't to argue whether there are harms associated with polygamy, for the purposes of this post it was enough for me that there is academic discussion over these harms (and that the United Nations deplores polygamy, citing unequal access to education as a harm, as well as many other things). My intention wasn`t to argue whether there is harm associated with racism either, but to highlight how funny it is that there seems to be patterns in popularity over where we are willing to find harm enough to interfere as a country.

I only brought up polygamy as an example of something that is actually an offense on the books, but something that has not been used as a charge since the early 1900's (and then, it was only once and was actually unsuccessful in the end, if I remember correctly).

You sort of make my point, though, so I think we`re on the same page. We aren`t willing, as a country, to police marriages, even though we have a criminal sanction against polygamy (and assault, for that matter). We ARE willing, though, to police (through removing children) what appears to be some kind of indoctrination of racism (from the details in the news article, which admittedly isn`t that much to go on).

Polygamy may not have been the best example, since the real reason that polygamy (since 1982, anyway) hasn`t been used as a criminal charge is that there is uncertainty over whether it would withstand a Charter challenge over freedom of religion, but I honestly didn`t want to get into that much detail with this post.

While a debate about polygamy itself would be awesome, it`s not really what I was going for, especially since there are so many levels to discuss (i.e. Muslim polygamy vs. fundamentalist Mormon polygamy, polygamy within Canada vs. polygamy world-wide, immigration issues with polygamist families and what Canada should do as compared to what other countries in the world do ... I could go on and on).

I actually had this discussion with a classmate of mine this year about how ridiculous it is that within Canada polygamy is still on the books as an offense, when the harms that we see in Canadian polygamist communities (I`m thinking Bountiful) are those that you`ve outlined above ... harms that have their own separate charges and that aren`t related to polygamy per se. Not to mention that polygamy as an offense arguably does amount to religious targeting; if you look back over the history of polygamy as an offense, you`d find Canada modeling the laws of the United States, where adding polygamy as a crime was arguably directly aimed at controlling the Mormon population in the later 1800`s.

What I got from reading the U of A Faculty of Law post was that, as Canadians, we have to be very careful about policing ideas vs. policing substantive harm to others. The point I tried to make (as did you with your observation about many monogamous marriages being harmful) is that there seems to be acceptable places for us to find harm, and unacceptable places for us to find harm (regardless of where harm actually exits). It`s just interesting to me how things become and cease to be popular for this acceptability.

Whew. Didn`t think my response would be this long. Hope you don`t feel like I`m jumping all over you, it`s just that you`ve brought up some really good points that I really wanted to address. AND ... if you ever wanted to talk about polygamy stuff ... I`m totally up for it. I did a paper on it this year, and hearing different points of view about it all really gets me excited.

Clay Hilbert said...

This is an interesting article and post. I think that the authorities in this case may be a little overzealous in taking custody of the children. If they are working under 319(2) of the Criminal Code (Wilful Promotion of Hatred) and making that the basis of their seizure rights I think they are stretching the letter of the law beyond the scope of it's intention.

On another note I just don't get why people promoting the advancement of white people gravitate to the symbol of Nazi Germany. What a horrible symbol to get behind! I don't think this lady (although I can't speak on her behalf) would want another genocide to take place but that is kind of what she is promoting by using those symbols. Black people have established organizations such as the NAACP and have symbols like the upraised fist (extreme where the black panthers are concerned) but since no genocide has been linked to either of those banners they don't carry the same connotations the swastika and the iron cross do.

I think that ethnocentrism is still prevalent in society. But in our globalized world the viewpoint strikes me as antiquated and to some degree close-minded. I think there are healtier ways to embrace difference and uniqueness (I'm looking at you summer Olympics) that do it without promoting hate. Variety is the spice of life, different isn't always evil.