Intervening in the Context of White Settler Colonialism : West Coast LEAF, Gender Equality and the Polygamy Reference
Oñati Socio-Legal Series
Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law
In November 2011, the British Columbia Supreme Court released its judgement in Reference re: s. 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada, upholding the prohibition on polygamy as constitutional. The Polygamy Reference, as it is known, concluded that the pressing and substantial objective of s. 293 is the prevention of harm to women, to children, and to the institution of monogamous marriage. This paper analyzes the submissions made by the feminist legal education organization, West Coast LEAF, one of the few feminist 'voices' taken seriously by the court. The apprehension of polygamy's harms was central to the Reference case. West Coast LEAF offered one of the most nuanced interpretations of how the criminal prohibition on polygamy should be interpreted with respect to harm. Yet as this paper argues, its position conceals and is underpinned by racialized relations of power that, however unwittingly, give weight to and indeed require the racial logic of white settler state sovereignty articulated in the Polygamy References' overall narrative.