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Monday, two former bishops of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will hear the verdict in their polygamy trial, Canada’s first such trial since 1906.
Winston Blackmore is Canada’s most outspoken, prolific and unapologetic polygamist. His indictment lists 24 women as wives and he is known to have fathered 148 children, three of whom have been born since his trial on one count of polygamy concluded in April.
His co-defendant is James Oler. Originally, four women were named on his indictment, but a fifth was added during the trial. It’s not known how many children he has.
If guilty, they face the prospect of up to five years in jail.
But even they are found guilty, it’s unlikely to end the long-running saga of Bountiful, which the two men’s fathers founded 70 years ago as a discreet place to practice polygamy just like Mormonism’s early leaders did.
If the verdict is guilty, Blackmore plans to make an application to challenge the validity of the polygamy laws, arguing they infringe on his constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion, according to his lawyer, Blair Suffredine.
During the trial, the judge refused to hear Suffredine’s constitutional argument because he failed to properly notify the judge, the other lawyers and the federal Justice Department of a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
(Oler refused legal counsel and made no effort to defend himself during the trial.)
Both Blackmore and Oler were raised in polygamous families.
At various points, each of their fathers was Bountiful’s spiritual leader, just as they have both been.
At home, in school and at church, they were taught that it was a holy order bestowed on only the worthiest of men. They were also taught to obey God’s laws over the laws of Canada.
Blackmore’s father, Ray, had six wives and 31 children. Winston was born into the first family on Aug. 25, 1956. His mother was Anna Mae, Ray’s first and only legal wife, and the family’s powerful matriarch. Winston was her fifth son and the ninth of her 13 children.
At his 2012 tax trial, Blackmore testified that between 2000 and 2006, he didn’t live with any of his 22 wives or 67 children. He lived with his mother in a two-bedroom apartment.
After Ray died, James Oler’s father became Bountiful’s spiritual leader. To dislodge him, Blackmore convinced Anna Mae to sign over the family’s property — title to most of the Bountiful townsite — to the church and its United Effort Plan trust.
It caused a split in the family that was cemented when Blackmore was excommunicated in 2002. Some refused to follow him when he set up a breakaway sect that Winston audaciously named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When the mainstream church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, suddenly realized three years ago that its name had been appropriated, it successfully sued Blackmore and got back its name.
Brandon James Blackmore was one of the Blackmore siblings who stuck with the FLDS. Intensely loyal to its erratic and abusive prophet, Warren Jeffs, Brandon and his wife, Gail, took their 13-year-old daughter to Utah in 2004 to marry Jeffs.
On Aug. 11, the pair will be sentenced for the unlawful removal of a child from Canada for an illegal purpose.
Their co-defendant was James Oler. His acquittal is being appealed.
Oler’s mother is Winston’s and Brandon’s sister, who was 16 when she became Dalmon Oler’s second wife.
Three of James’s five ‘mothers’ were teenagers when they joined the family. One had been legally adopted by Ray and Anna Mae Blackmore and was 14 when she became one of Dalmon’s plural wives. When she had a child at 15, provincial child protection officials stepped in and took both mother and child into care. But no charges were laid and within a few months, she was back with Oler.
In the early 1990s, RCMP investigated both Dalmon Oler and Winston Blackmore following complaints of abuse and recommended charges. None was ever laid.
Government lawyers and a couple of retired judges advised the attorney general that the polygamy law was invalid, an unjustifiable infringement of religious freedom.
More than a decade later, more abuse complaints prompted another investigation. Again, no charges were laid because while special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded that the polygamy law “may well be upheld by the courts,” he recommended the government get “an authoritative statement” from the B.C. Court of Appeal on its validity.
Wally Oppal, a former Court of Appeal judge, was attorney general. He disagreed and two special prosecutors later, charges were laid.
But this time, it was Dalmon’s son, James, who was charged with one count of polygamy along with Blackmore.
Those charges were eventually stayed after Blackmore convinced a judge that the two prosecutors were improperly appointed.
So, finally, in 2010, another attorney general ordered a reference case. But instead of sending it to the appeal court, that attorney general, Mike de Jong, sent it to the B.C. Supreme Court. The law was upheld, clearing the way for charges against Oler and the three Blackmores.
But a decision from the B.C. Supreme Court, a trial court, doesn’t carry the weight of an appellate court. It’s only an opinion and it’s one that Blackmore believes is wrong.
The polygamy offence
The Criminal Code’s polygamy section 293 says: “Every one who practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraphs (i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.”
It goes on to say : “Where an accused is charged with an offence under this section, no averment or proof of the method by which the alleged relationship was entered into, agreed to or consented to is necessary in the indictment or on the trial of the accused, nor is it necessary on the trial to prove that the persons who are alleged to have entered into the relationship had or intended to have sexual intercourse.”
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