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.)