B.C. polygamous sect leaders charged again
CRANBROOK, B.C.—Two leaders of an isolated religious commune in B.C. have been charged for the second time with practising polygamy—more than two decades after allegations of multiple marriage, sexual abuse, and cross-border child trafficking first attracted the attention of the outside world.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who lead separate factions in a community known as Bountiful, each were charged yesterday with one count of polygamy.
Oler also is charged along with two others—Brandon Blackmore and Emily Crossfield—with unlawfully removing a child from Canada for sexual purposes.
The charges are the latest step in a series of investigations and failed attempts at prosecutions dating back to the early 1990s involving Bountiful, which follows a fundamentalist form of Mormonism.
Blackmore and Oler each were charged with polygamy in 2009, but the case was thrown out over how the province chose its special prosecutor.
Until now, the decisions over whether to bring Blackmore, Oler, or any other residents of Bountiful to trial were hampered by uncertainty over whether the Criminal Code section banning polygamy violated religious rights outlined in the charter.
But the B.C. Supreme Court answered that question following an exhaustive reference case, ruling in 2011 that the law was, in fact, constitutional and that the harms of polygamy outweighed any claims to religious freedom.
A news release issued by the province’s criminal justice branch said the charges were sworn yesterday morning.
A first appearance is scheduled in Creston provincial court Oct. 9.
The indictment lists 24 women Blackmore is alleged to have married between 1990 and 2014.
Blackmore publicly has admitted to having multiple wives.
He told a tax court in 2012 that he had 22 wives and 67 children.
Meanwhile, Oler’s four marriages are alleged to have occurred between 1993 and 2009, according to the indictment.
About 1,000 people are believed to live in Bountiful, which is located in the southeastern corner of the province not far from the U.S.-Canada border.
Members of the community still hold polygamy as a tenet of the faith—unlike the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
The community is linked to American polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS.
The community split in the early 2000s, with Oler’s group remaining loyal to Jeffs and Blackmore leading his own faction.