SALT LAKE CITY — Parents of girls as young as 12 took their daughters across the Canadian border into Utah to become child brides of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, according to Canadian court documents.
It's the latest allegation to emerge in a long-running legal saga that already has Jeffs facing sex charges in Texas.
"Yes, it really shocks me that the young girls are married so young," said British Columbia resident Linda Price in 2004. In that year, she spoke to a KSL-TV news crew that went to Canada to investigate rumors of cross-border trafficking in child brides.
Some of the suspicions raised 6 years ago are alleged by a court filing Friday in Vancouver, B.C. The Attorney General of British Columbia said in a court affidavit that the parents of two 12 year olds and a 13 year old transported the girls out of Canada in 2004 and 2005.
All three girls, the affidavit says, were "celestially married" to Jeffs in the FLDS border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. One wedding was allegedly conducted at an FLDS member's home on the Arizona side of town. It's not clear if the other two ceremonies were conducted in the Utah or Arizona portion of the community.
The girls were then moved to the FLDS property in Texas known as the Yearning For Zion Ranch, the affidavit says. Part of the evidence for the child-bride trafficking accusation was uncovered three years ago during a law enforcement raid on the Texas ranch. The Canadian court affidavit refers to evidence found in FLDS church records seized during the raid.
Later, Canadian authorities linked the Texas evidence to birth records on the three girls. With the girls' ages now established, British Columbia Attorney General Barry Penner has reportedly referred the evidence to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine if the girls' parents can be charged with crimes.
The girls were residents of the rustic community known as Bountiful. It's in British Columbia less than a mile from the U.S. border crossing at the northern tip of Idaho. For decades Bountiful, B.C., has been an FLDS outpost. Shortly after Warren Jeffs took control of the sect a decade ago, a leadership struggle tore Bountiful apart. About 1,000 FLDS members in Canada are thought to still revere Jeffs as a prophet.
In a story broadcast by KSL-TV in November 2004, Linda Price spoke on behalf of a group of anti-polygamy activists in nearby Creston, B.C. She alleged that young brides were being smuggled in both directions between Utah and Canada. "They're smart enough to realize that interbreeding isn't a good idea," Price said. "So they have the gene pool. They move them back and forth between the two."
At that same time, FLDS member and Bountiful resident Joseph Blackmore denied the allegation. "In this day and age do you really think people can smuggle back and forth across the border?" Blackmore said. "I don't think so."
But a U.S. guard working at the nearby border crossing told KSL that he frequently saw cars with Utah plates, carrying who he surmised were underage brides across the border.
The new affidavit was filed in a Canadian court case that has no exact equivalent in the United States. It's known as a "constitutional reference" case. The purpose of the proceeding is to determine whether Canada's polygamy laws are constitutional or whether they conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The judge in the constitutional reference case recently concluded the evidentiary phase of the proceeding. Now, the B.C. Attorney General has asked to re-open the case and present new evidence about the 12 and 13-year-old brides. The filing also asks the court to keep the girls' identities secret. Chief Justice Robert Bauman of the Supreme Court of British Columbia is expected to hold a hearing Friday on the Attorney General's filing.
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