Affidavits tell of overarching church control

December 3, 2010

The reference case on polygamy unfolding in B.C. Supreme Court features dozens of lawyers, a series of expert witnesses and a weighty cache of written material. The case also features affidavits of people who live, or used to live, in communities where polygamy is practised. The Attorney-General of B.C., who - along with the Attorney-General of Canada - wants Canada's criminal prohibition against polygamy to be upheld, recorded 14 video affidavits of people who had left fundamentalist Mormon communities.

Some excerpts:


In her affidavit, Ms. Broadbent says she grew up in and around Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints communities in Utah. Her father had two wives, each of whom had 11 children.

She has 12 children of her own. Several of them left the FLDS community before Ms. Broadbent did, several years ago.

"They left because they were told they couldn't have friends over," Ms. Broadbent says in an interview with a lawyer for the province. "They couldn't have friends. They were always watched any time they went anywhere. My girls wanted to go horseback riding. And their dad would actually drive around in the truck to watch to see if they were talking to boys or getting in trouble."

Church teaching prohibits contact between young people of the opposite sex.

She remembers being told: "Boys are like snakes. They're poison. They'll bite you, and take a girl's virginity and shoot it all to hell."

One of Ms. Broadbent's daughters ran away repeatedly, beginning when the girl was 13.

"She'd run away seven different times and finally the seventh time I helped her out and I told her, 'Cut your hair. Cut your hair and you can't come back.' "

Ms. Broadbent says she ultimately left the community to protect her youngest daughter, whom she feared would be married at church elders' orders.


In his affidavit, Mr. Ream says he was born in Magna, Utah, and grew up as one of 31 children, including 18 "full-blooded" siblings and 12 half-brothers and half-sisters.

As a teen, he got into trouble for having a relationship with a young woman. He was sent to Bountiful, B.C., to work at a lumber operation owned by Winston Blackmore - who was leader of the FLDS community of Bountiful until a church power struggle early this decade and remains the head of about 500 residents who stayed loyal to him after the split.

After a stint in Bountiful, Mr. Ream came back to Utah with the hope of settling down in the FLDS community.

"I started focusing everything on being that picture-perfect person that everybody told me I needed to be in order to be worthy of receiving a wife. Because I am a family man. I love my children. And I wanted to have children. And as long as I stayed part of that society, that was a privilege that was not going to be extended unless I could convince some influential people that I was worthy and capable of such responsibility."

After leaving the FLDS, Mr. Ream became one of the plaintiffs in a landmark "lost boys" case filed against FLDS leaders in 2004. Settlements arising from that case are still being negotiated in U.S. courts.


In her affidavit, Ruth Lane says she was born in Colorado City, Ariz. Her father had two wives and Ms. Lane grew up as one of 15 children.

"I loved growing up out there, it was nice to live in a close community where you feel safe."

At 19, at her request, she became the 10th wife of Winston Blackmore. A couple of months later, her sister became his 11th.

"The first couple of years for me were golden, they were ideal. We all had fun until we had kids and started getting cramped."

She left when she became pregnant for the seventh time, frustrated and disenchanted with her relationship with Mr. Blackmore.

While she would no longer choose polygamy for herself, she hopes the constitutional reference case will result in the practice being decriminalized.

"I am very excited there is going to be an answer one way or another," Ms. Lane says in her interview. "I really would like the people that want to do that lifestyle - if my daughter does choose that lifestyle, I would very much like her to be able to live it within the law. I would like her to have the ability to be proud and be a somebody, not just a plural wife, but a wife."


In his affidavit, Brent Jeffs says he grew up in Sandy, Utah.

He was one of 21 children born to his father and three women.

There was tension between the wives and their children, Mr. Jeffs recalls.

"For me, it was nothing but chaos and yelling and screaming and everyone fighting for attention and never getting it."

He went to the Alta Academy, a now-closed FLDS school in Salt Lake City. Instruction included church doctrine. Boys were taught that girls were "poison snakes" and not to associate with them.

He left the community as a teenager after clashing with American FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Brent Jeffs has published an account, Lost Boy, of his experiences, including alleged sexual abuse by Warren Jeffs.

The harms associated with polygamy include "child trauma," Brent Jeffs says.

"The laws of polygamy are nothing but these men wanting control over a group of people and it started in the very beginning with Joseph Smith," Mr. Jeffs says in his interview. "And I have no ill feeling toward any church and what they want to believe but when you harm children and you tear families apart and ruin people's lives, that's when I step in and say, 'Absolutely not, this is not how people should live.' "


In her affidavit, Rena Mackert says she was born in Short Creek, a town on the Utah-Arizona border.

Her mother was the third wife of her father, who had four wives in total.

Children were taught to conceal the fact that they were being raised in a polygamous family.

Ms. Mackert says she was sexually abused by her father.

Her parents told her at 17 she was to be married. She had four children in five years, and faced questions from a church leader who accused her of using birth control when she went more than a year without bearing a child.

"I saw so many disparities growing up. We were the saints of God, but we had to hide. We were God's chosen but we couldn't tell anyone who we are. We were required to lie. We were taught to lie -to everyone, except those who believe as we do. If we forgot, the repercussions were the child's fault."

When her husband divorced her after five years of marriage, Ms. Mackert was to be married to an older man. She fled, returning later with court papers that allowed her to take her children.

She and her sister, Kathleen Mackert - who has also provided a video affidavit in the reference case - now run a non-profit group in Anacortes, Wash., to assist "victims of domestic violence and polygamy."

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