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UNICEF Canada Statement on British Columbia Polygamy Reference Case


By Marvin Bernstein, UNICEF Canada Chief Advocacy Advisor

UNICEF Canada is pleased with the British Columbia Supreme Court’s decision in the polygamy reference case, to uphold the constitutionality of Canada’s 121-year-old anti-polygamy law, as set out in section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

We believe that when children are placed at risk of harm and their rights are violated as a result of exploitative practices, such as those evidenced within closed polygamous communities, governments are obligated to take steps necessary to protect those children from harm and to uphold those rights.

The BC Court deserves much credit for recognizing the various forms of harm ‘that are reasonably apprehended to arise’ in polygamous practices. For example, the decision severely criticized polygamy as a practice that encourages abuse of women, endangers children, ostracizes young men and inflicts a heavy financial burden on society as a whole.

UNICEF Canada is also encouraged that the Court found that the anti-polygamy law should not be used to charge or prosecute anyone under the age of 18 who is married into polygamous unions. Provincial and territorial laws and enforcement must follow suit and refrain from re-victimizing child victims who have been subjected to exploitation themselves.

Although this is not an appeal decision and is not technically binding on other courts, we are confident the 335 page ruling on this case will have considerable persuasive value, as it provides clarity and certainty to a previously ambiguous law in Canada.

The ruling also provides some indication that the courts are now prepared to give serious consideration to legal questions that impact children’s rights in a deleterious manner.

Finally, this decision marks an important moment for the advancement of Canadian jurisprudence on the matter of children’s rights.

View the entire ruling


UNICEF is the world's leading child-focused humanitarian and development agency. Through innovative programs and advocacy work, we save children's lives and secure their rights in virtually every country. Our global reach, unparalleled influence on policymakers, and diverse partnerships make us an instrumental force in shaping a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. UNICEF is entirely supported by voluntary donations and helps all children, regardless of race, religion or politics. For more information about UNICEF, please visit

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