Legislative history of Section 293

Almost a month ago, we posted the Attorney General’s summary of the polygamy statute’s legislative history, but we didn’t have the supporting documents. We can now give you the whole thing.

We have:

The record seems silent about the problems most of Section 293’s modern proponents claim it’s needed to address.

In the 1890 debate, parliamentarians took it as given that polygamy was immoral and deserved punishment. Of course no distinction was made between polyamory and patriarchal polygyny; egalitarian polyamory was perhaps unimaginable to the legislators. There was significant passing mention of Christianity. There was a lot of talk about Mormons who were moving into Canada, and of fears that they might be practising polygamy. There seemed to be much concern that the Mormons’ way of life, including polygamy, was a challenge to established social institutions, and to the order those institutions represented. These 19th century men seemed to value that order for itself, and order was perhaps the center of the (limited) debate.

Some participants in the present case have mentioned valuing social institutions for their own sake. One or two have even emphasized it. However, I think it’s fair to say that social order is not the main thrust of most prohibitionists’ arguments in 2010. In the modern debate, Section 293’s supporters claim that certain harms are intrinsic to multi-partner relationships. The star concerns are abuses of consent, and emotional and psychological harm to women and children. See our previous post for various parties’ position summaries.

If there was any concern in the 1890 record for women or children who might be exploited, in whatever way, in the context of polygamy, I didn’t see it…. not even in the vocabulary of lost “virtue” and “chastity” the same sessions used to discus other sex-related laws.

But you can see for yourselves.

The files the AG provided are huge, and only a few pages actually talk about polygamy. The AG’s brief points to relevant pages; unfortunately we don’t have the tabs that were on the paper copies, but it’s still possible to find the references. You can also search for keywords like “polygamy” and “Mormon”, but be aware that OCR is imperfect and the searches may miss things. If you find anything juicy, please comment here.

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