Whose Versions of Love and Marriage?
Lustful Prophets, Colluding Fathers: The Trafficking of Young Brides between Canada and the US for the Purposes of Multiple Covenant Marriage
Serena Petrella, Associate Professor Chair, Sociology Program Coordinator, Gender and Women’s Studies, Brandon University, Canada
This presentation focuses on marriage trafficking, a form of religious “bride smuggling” in which families trade their daughters into “celestial marriage” in exchange for power and prestige in their Mormon enclaves. “Celestial marriage” is a form of polygyny, in which a young girl is married off to a high-status man, who is already married to one or more wives. Mormon belief stipulates that multiple marriage is salvific and required to ascend to heaven.
In 2011, a British Columbia Supreme Court adjudication examined the practice of Mormon polygamy. The practice had been quietly resurging, over the last 60 years, in a small community of about 2,000 people in British Columbia. The courts needed to ascertain whether Mormon polygamy was inherently harmful and whether it might by protected by the “freedom of religion” clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Judge Bauman, presiding on the case, concluded that Fundamentalist Mormon polygamy was always harmful, and upheld its criminalization in the Criminal Code, while re-centring monogamy as the unshakeable pillar of sexual citizenship.
Shortly after, the state unleashed its disciplining zeal on the small Mormon community, as the adjudication had found evidence that up to 31 young girls, as young as 12, had been smuggled back and forth from the USA, over the past decade, to be married off in multiple celestial marriages to much older men. Two among these underage brides from Bountiful were married to the infamous Mormon leader Warren Jeffs, currently serving life in prison in Texas, for sexual assault and exploitation of minors. Adjudicators and jurors moved forth on multiple fronts: first, they stripped the community of its tax-saving “special religious status”; next, they prosecuted and charged two of its leaders, Mr. Winston Blackmore and Mr. James Oler, with polygamy in 2017. Mr. Blackmore came under scrutiny for the lax fiscal management of his flock and charged with tax evasion. Earlier this year, Mr. Oler, and two other community members, were prosecuted and charged for human trafficking, for willingly smuggling their own daughters to the US, knowing they would be married off into multiple “celestial” unions and sexually exploited by their much older husbands.
In this presentation, I will examine a body of literature that includes the texts of the adjudications for the court cases brought against these Mormon Families, as well as the support materials and testimonies collected in preparation for these trials, to examine the manner in which the Canadian State sponsors a very specific and narrow form of “erotic propriety” for sexual citizenship in the Law. I grapple seriously with the question: whose versions of love and marriage gain ascendancy, become licit, and are legally entrenched through recognized and state sanctioned unions, in religiously pluralistic societies such as Canada?
In my analysis of this literature, I will grapple with the following questions: given that these crimes took place in 2004, why prosecute at this juncture? Were these court cases attempting to protect underage members of the community from sexual exploitation? Was the state truly attempting to create more gender equal conditions, to ensure that young girls could grow up and live fulfilling and equal lives? Was something else at the heart of the draconian “crackdown” on Mormon polygyny? My analysis aims to ascertain whether the trope of “bride smuggling” between Canada and the United States of America was adopted by the Canadian state to normatively impose a very specific kind of erotic civility, while at the same time safeguarding both the purse strings of the state and the borders of the nation.
Negotiating Love, Trust and Suspicion: Lawyers as Political Actors in the Moral Economy of Marriage Migration Management in Canada
Anne-Marie D’Aoust, Assistant Professor at Université du Québec à Montréal
Suicidal thoughts, heartbreak, shattered self-esteem, financial precarity, and unsurmountable debts: these are only some of the dramatic consequences of marriage fraud on Canadian citizens that the 2013 campaign launched by Citizenship and Immigration Canada - now known as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) - aimed to highlight. The campaign was the result of the Conservative government’s decision in 2011 to put marriage and partner migration under public scrutiny. It notably emphasized its emotional and financial toll on “naïve” Canadians blindly in love.
Following suit, much publicity was made in 2015 around finding that the internal migration training manual on marriage fraud had been containing at least since 2007 a list of “specific clues officers should look for in assessing a spousal sponsorship application”. Red flags included “couples who are not depicted kissing on the lips in their wedding photos”, “university-educated Chinese nationals who marry non-Chinese”, “couples who don’t take a honeymoon trip”, “photos of activities together taken in Niagara Falls” and “a small wedding reception in a restaurant.”
The 2013 campaign, along with the identification and circulation of a list of specific indicators of suspicious activities that could allow for the effective identification of marriages of convenience, highlight how immigration management relies on various assessments, readings, and understandings of people, practices, documents, and pictures, to assess their emotional value in light of what a “true marriage” consists of.
Several authors have already pointed out the normative role the romantic Western love narrative plays as a technique of government in the securitization of family reunification processes. Going beyond this well-documented idea that couples often need to play along this specific love script to make a successful case, this presentation will focus on the political work love does in the strategies put in place by lawyers who help couples complete a family reunification process in Montreal.
Drawing on interviews conducted with immigration lawyers in the Montreal area, I examine how they partake in a moral economy centered around the distribution of trust and suspicion when it comes to spousal and partner reunification processes. Here, lawyers are considered as political actors rather than mere technocrats who possess technical expertise and know-how. Lack of contacts between immigration officers and lawyers often entail that mental projection is central to the lawyers’ file preparation: what would an immigration officer think? These projections are based on an securitized logic of border controls, where “true relationships” must be distinguished from “fake ones.” They guide which material is strategically being included in the application, and how it is being presented.
For this presentation, I will focus my attention on the strategies lawyers have developed to make their cases successful, and on the role love plays in their perceptions of what would generate trust or suspicion. To that end, I center my analyses on three domains or areas where love becomes entangled in the lawyers’ strategies: 1) In navigating the tension between professionalism and “political activism”; 2) In selecting pictures, and the moral gatekeeping practices that emerge from it; and 3) In presenting credible stories of love and “love at first sight.”