Polygamy's Inscrutable Secular Mischief

69 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2009

See all articles by Susan G. Drummond

Susan G. Drummond

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: February 19, 2009


This paper attempts to decipher the specific mischief in the offense of polygamy in-and-of-itself. It examines whether the offense coincides any longer with the contemporary substratum of values about the family and sexuality that have emerged over the last forty years in Canadian law and society. The relevance of formal conjugality - triggered by marriage, extinguished by divorce, and shielded in-between by privacy - has been turned inside/out by the sociological and legal significance of functional conjugality. For the latter construct the content of intimate and familial relationships has become a substitute focus of legal scrutiny. Meanwhile, the contemporary range of normalized sexual and familial diversity has voided functional conjugality of the bright line coherence of its antecedent. Conjugality itself appears to be collapsing into uncertainty and incoherence in its most familiar domain: family law. These parallel developments in the socio-legal conception of family and intimacy have outpaced a polygamy offense that has sat virtually unused since the first Criminal Code of 1892. As a result, the polygamy offense itself has collapsed into the disintegrating concept of conjugality, rendering the harm that it targets all the more inscrutable. In the result, the polygamy section is void for vagueness and resultantly an infringement on liberty rights guaranteed in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The inscrutability of polygamy's mischief suggests that criminal law is the wrong instrument for addressing worries about the vulnerabilities of women and children within plural family arrangements. These legitimate anxieties can be addressed through a plethora of alternative regulatory means, none of which assail fundamental principles of justice entrenched in the constitution.

Keywords: Polygamy, Void for vagueness, Conjugality, Religious marriage, Section 7 Charter of Rights and Freedoms

JEL Classification: K10, K36

Suggested Citation

Drummond, Susan G., Polygamy's Inscrutable Secular Mischief (February 19, 2009). CLPE Research Paper No. 2/2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1346394 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1346394

Susan G. Drummond (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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