For thirty years, lawyers, pundits, professors, and politicians
had said that section 293 of the Criminal Code of
Canada-the criminal prohibition of polygamy-was
unconstitutional, a Victorian anachronism that, in a modern
rights-based democracy, deserved to be swept aside in the name of
individual liberty and religious freedom. Polygamy per se,
it was argued, was harmless.
Beginning in 2009 in Vancouver, a small team of lawyers from the
federal and provincial governments, along with a handful of
allied public-interest groups, set out to prove the experts
wrong and to show that there were devastating harms that inevitably
flowed from polygamy's "cruel arithmetic": harms to women and
children, to society at large, and even to the very foundation of
democracy itself. The case against polygamy would proceed for
almost two years, and was laid out through forty-four days of
trial and more than 100 witnesses. The evidence ranged from
the testimony of pre-eminent academics to stark and disturbing
confessions of polygamists testifying under the shield of
anonymity. The eventual 357-page decision of the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, based on (in his
words) "the most comprehensive judicial record on the subject
ever produced," defied all expectations and set the world of
constitutional law back on its heels.
This is a remarkable insider's story of a unique piece of
litigation: the first trial-court "constitutional reference" in
Canadian history. Craig Jones, lead counsel for the Attorney
General of British Columbia, describes the argument he and his
colleagues developed against polygamy, drawing from fields as
diverse as anthropology, history, economics, and evolutionary
psychology. Yet it was ultimately the testimony of real people that
showed how the theoretical harms of polygamy's "cruel arithmetic"
played out upon its victims.
A Cruel Arithmetic describes how the author's own views
evolved from scepticism to a committed belief in the campaign
against polygamy. This book is also an invitation to
Canadians across political, philosophical, and religious
spectrums to exercise their curiousity, approach the issue with an
open mind, and follow along as the evidence converges to its
powerful and surprising conclusion.