Polygamy Reference [2010]

Case summary

This reference required the Court to determine whether s.293 of the Criminal Code (the “Polygamy Provision”) is constitutional, including whether the provision can be interpreted to ensure that it is constitutionally valid.  West Coast LEAF had a demonstrable historical and current interest in the practice of polygamy, in particular, in Bountiful, BC, and in the impact of that practice on the equality rights of women and children.  West Coast LEAF sought leave to intervene on that basis.

West Coast LEAF’s involvement

West Coast LEAF was an intervener at the BC Supreme Court in the Reference on the constitutionality of section 293 of the Criminal Code – the so-called “Polygamy Provision.”

“We’re arguing that the polygamy provision of the Criminal Code is there to prevent the practice of polygamy where such practice is exploitative or abusive of women and children, and so should be interpreted to prohibit harmful conduct,” said West Coast LEAF Legal Director Kasari Govender.


On November 23, 2011, the BC Supreme Court found that the Criminal Code prohibition against polygamy is constitutionally valid and upheld the Polygamy Provision. Chief Justice Bauman found that prohibition should be broadly interpreted to apply to all people engaged in multi-spouse marriages that have been sanctioned by civil, religious or other means, but suggested that children between the ages of 12 and 17 who are married into polygamous relationships should not be subject to the criminal law.  The decision also appears to exclude from the criminal law people involved in common law multi-spouse unions such as polyamorous triads.

The practice of polygamy can limit women’s choices and create serious vulnerability for young women and girls to sexual and other exploitation.

Case documents

Application for leave to intervene – Supreme Court of BC

Decision – Supreme Court of BC

Opening statement – West Coast LEAF

Closing statement – West Coast LEAF

Case documents

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