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Prosecutor appointed to investigate Canada polygamous group

Prosecutor appointed to investigate Canada polygamous group

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VICTORIA, British Columbia (AP) -- British Columbia's top lawyer on Monday appointed a special prosecutor to look into allegations of sexual misconduct within the polygamous community of Bountiful in western Canada.

Attorney General Wally Oppal said lawyer Terrence Robertson has been appointed to assess the likelihood of criminal convictions in the community, a breakaway Mormon sect of about 1,500 people that practices polygamous marriages long ago abandoned by the mainstream church. The community includes about 500 U.S. citizens.

At least one teenager from Bountiful was apprehended by U.S. authorities in April when a sister polygamous community in Texas was raided.

Oppal has said there have been allegations of sexual misconduct in Bountiful but that nobody has agreed to testify in court. The community was previously investigated in a three-year review that was launched in 2004.

Oppal said in April he planned to arrest someone on a polygamy charge or ask the courts to weigh in on Bountiful's legal standing within the month. The issue is complicated because although polygamy is banned, religious freedoms are strongly protected in Canada.

The community has been under repeated scrutiny, with previous investigations into allegations of sexual abuse, human trafficking and forced marriages. As part of a three-year review launched in 2004, detectives spent three months in the community. No charges were brought, but the legal age of sexual consent in Canada increased to 16 from 14 on May 1.

Authorities raided that Texas polygamist compound and took custody of 463 children in April, as child welfare officials said the beliefs practiced there left girls at risk of sexual abuse and encouraged boys to become sexual perpetrators.

A Texas district judge has since ordered the immediate return of the children, who began reuniting with their families Monday.

Bountiful, just north of the U.S. border, is splintered. Some follow Warren Jeffs -- the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who was sentenced to two consecutive terms of five years to life in a Utah prison after being convicted last year on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. Others follow his excommunicated former bishop Winston Blackmore.

While Jeffs' followers stick to fundamentalist practices, Blackmore has liberalized his family and followers, discouraging forced marriages and young brides; he no longer requires women to wear specific dress but urges them, instead, to dress conservatively.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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