Polygamy Documentary Debuts at Film Festival

Polygamy Documentary Debuts at Film Festival

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- "Banking on Heaven," a documentary on women who have fled a polygamist cult based along the Utah-Arizona border, has debuted at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Filmmaker Laurie Allen said at the movie's world premiere Thursday that the polygamists are in Canada, too.

Most of the estimated 10,000 followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints live in the twin border communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, but the church also has property in Colorado and Texas and an enclave in Bountiful, British Columbia, where polygamy has been practiced openly for decades.

Debbie Palmer, who fled the Bountiful enclave, said hundreds there are loyal to the church's leader, Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is being sought by the FBI on charges of sexual conduct with a minor in connection with marriages between allegedly underage girls and older men. He also is charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and a $10,000 reward has been offered by Arizona and Utah.

"Banking on Heaven" speaks with women who have fled from the sect.

They say they were married off as young as 14 to men who had many wives, and kept pregnant for as long as they could bear children.

"The same thing is happening in Bountiful," Allen said. She was quoted by The Canadian Press.

She said her information is based on conversations with Palmer and other women who have fled the sect.

Palmer said she was married to a 55-year-old man when she was 15. He said she ran away from Bountiful in 1998 to protect her daughter from polygamy.

"I was his sixth wife," said Palmer, who has since written a book about her experience called "Keep Sweet."

Palmer said she still is in touch with people in Bountiful who don't follow Jeffs. She said there are girls in Bountiful who are being raped and are too afraid to go to police because they have been conditioned to think this is a holy way to live.

Some women of Bountiful have said they don't need saving and they love living in polygamy.

Last spring they held a summit in nearby Creston and denied allegations of trafficking in child brides, underage marriage, sexual abuse and welfare fraud.

A registered nurse and midwife from Bountiful said two 16-year-olds have had babies in the community and none younger. The youngest marriage involved a 15-year-old girl who turned 16 the next day, she said.

Under Canadian law, girls may marry at 16 with the permission of their parents.

Allen said polygamy will never go away and governments shouldn't waste time trying to stamp it out.

"It's about mandatory education. Educate all these kids about the rest of the world. They should be going to public schools and educated because educated people make better choices," Allen said in an interview in Vancouver.

She says she is donating 20 per cent of the profits of her film to a charity called Child Brides that helps women who want out.

British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal said, "This has sort of been a festering file for a long time. Each attorney general that has dealt with it reached a dead end. I've made it my business to pursue this thing."

Former Attorney General Geoff Plant announced last year the start of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation into allegations of child abuse, forcible marriage and sexual exploitation in Bountiful. No charges have been laid.

Oppal said the RCMP is still trying to interview residents, but that it has been hard to get people to come forward.

"How can they?" asked Palmer. "The women we're most concerned about, who were 15 and 16 years old when they were assigned to the men in positions of authority inside the community, aren't coming from a position of strength to make their own personal complaints any more than any other child who has been raped in their life.

"When you're controlled and conditioned that way from birth you do not have any other frame of reference or any other way of making choices."

Allen said she hopes Banking on Heaven gets people talking about the problem.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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