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As news about Mormons convicted for polygamy in Canada make headlines worldwide, I wonder what exactly this law should even mean nowadays?

This question is related to this one about the US, which states that basically just one marriage is valid and the others are not officially recognized. How is the situation in Canada different?

As the Canadian state does to my knowledge not prosecute having children with multiple partners, is such a conviction for polygamy based more on "impostering"/"faking" marriages which are void/do not exist by law, or what happened here?

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Criminal Code 293 outlaws polygamy and bigamy, and identifies as an offender

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)

In other words, it is against the law to go through the ceremony with multiple partners, and to "enter into a conjugal union", even if not solemnized in any particular fashion. "Common law marriage" is broadly recognized in Canada (except in Quebec), with specific details governed by the province. This too is a case where people who "act as if" married are treated as actually married, given certain circumstances (which exist in a polygamous marriage).

The question of having children is not relevant to the law, indeed having sex is not a requirement for something to be deemed a polygamous marriage, and the law against polygamy also says

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.

In this particular case, we do not know the specific details, but it is reasonable to assume that there was no posturing or faking, and there were multiple solemnization ceremonies, so the polygamy is overt. The claim is that it is constitutionally protected.

  • Thanks for this answer. Could you clarify a few question which I still have? (1) Is it totally legal for multiple people to live together and have children together, and does this legality stand and fall only with any kind of "ceremony"? (2) What falls under "ANY form of conjugal union", that seems extremely broad? – Felix Dombek Jul 25 '17 at 15:32
  • @FelixDombek A common law relationship is very often defines as living together for a certain amount of time (3 years in many provinces IIRC), or by having kids together and living together. Having a single relationship between multiple partners would likely be construed as polygamous. But I'm not entirely sure what you're asking here. – Zizouz212 Jul 25 '17 at 18:59
  • @Zizouz212 I thought Canada had such civil liberties as the rest of the western world, i.e. the government doesn't tell you who you can love or have children with. Polyamory is, in fact, a thing. The question was specifically if the Canadian government makes a sharp destinction between polyamory and polygamy, in that it leaves polyamorous people alone. – Felix Dombek Jul 25 '17 at 19:04
  • @FelixDombek Well, we don't know the final decision of the case. The polygamy law that was used to charge the accused was made hundreds of years ago, back in the 1800s. Societal thought then was different then it is today. As for civil liberties, all of them are entrenched in our constitution and provincial human rights code. The conviction may very well be overturned on appeal if it is found to be unconstitutional. For the distinction, there is a distinction. The law only applies to polygamous relationships - relationships generally created through marriage. – Zizouz212 Jul 25 '17 at 19:36
  • @FelixDombek In my reading of the statute "Any form of conjugal union" prohibits the formation of a household made up, for example, of multiple women who are having children with the same man at the same time. Thus, it prohibits polyamory, although it would not prohibit serial relationships with multiple partners that give rise to children. – ohwilleke Jul 25 '17 at 21:25

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