Behind the Scenes – Convictions in Bountiful, BC Child Trafficking Case

The foundation for the 2017 convictions in the Bountiful, BC Child Trafficking Case began in 1988 with Debbie Palmer’s escape from the community. Married at 15 as a plural wife to a 58-year-old man, she was handed around by the leaders of the polygamous Mormon sect to three different husbands.

In 2002 CBC’s The Fifth Estate aired the documentary about Debbie’s life, Leaving Bountiful. Further CBC documentaries and interviews exposed physical, sexual and emotional abuses in the community along with the cross-border transportation of adolescent girls – children – to the United States as plural wives to older men.

Groups in the Vancouver area lobbied the BC government to prosecute the perpetrators of these abuses and to enforce the Canadian Criminal Code which declared polygamy illegal. The government didn’t respond.

Groups in the Kootenays offered secrecy and protection to any Bountiful woman brave enough to follow Debbie’s flight. An educational group in Creston, outside Bountiful, offered high school education to any Bountiful child allowed to attend.

In 2004 Debbie’s book Keep Sweet: Children of Polygamy was published. And in 2009 Daphne Bramham, further raised awareness with her book, The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in a Polygamous Mormon Sect.

2009 also marked the BC Supreme Court polygamy reference case. After exhaustive interviews with the help of research assistants, Craig Jones, litigator, argued that polygamy as it was practiced in Bountiful was harmful to women, children, and society. Justice Bauman agreed and in 2011 ruled that polygamy as it was practiced in Bountiful was not protected as a religious right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and was punishable under the Criminal Code. Jones’ work was published in A Cruel Arithmetic: Inside the Case against Polygamy.

In the meantime, records from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, headquarters of Warren Jeffs,  (a pedophile now imprisoned in the U.S. for child sexual abuse), leader to some of the Bountiful members, became available to the Canadian R.C.M.P. The records documented 32 underage girls from Bountiful, some as young as 12, being delivered across the border for sexual purposes. The 2004 rape of the 13-year-old daughter of Brandon and Gail Blackmore, recorded in writing and on audio tape, was among those records.

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