Charter notice delayed till end of polygamy trial

Prosecution closes case, wraps up closing arguments in polygamy trial.

Jim Oler (front left) and Winston Blackmore (right) are currently facing a polygamy charge and are standing trial in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

A judge has banished a notice of application that would launch a charter challenge in the trial of two fundamentalist Mormon leaders charged with polygamy until the end of the proceedings in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Justice Sheri Donegan ruled that a charter challenge alleging abuse of process in the prosecution of Winston Blackmore for polygamy needs to be reframed by his lawyer and addressed at the end of the trial proceedings once a verdict has been reached.

“The notice lacks clarity and is deficient in many respects,” Donegan said.

Donegan added that the application by Blair Suffredine — Blackmore’s lawyer — needs to address what sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were infringed and provide precise factual, evidentiary and legal basis for what type of relief he is seeking.

Filing a notice for a charter challenge also requires a response from the federal Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General, who have 14 days to decide whether to intervene.

Jim Oler, Blackmore’s co-accused, has expressed interest in filing a similar charter challenge notice, however, he is self-represented and needs to consult with legal counsel. Though Oler doesn’t have a lawyer, he has the services of an amicus — a court-appointed lawyer who attends the proceedings to ensure a fair trial.

Donegan also ruled in favour of the Crown’s application to amend Oler’s indictment to add a fifth woman to the polygamy charge based on evidence that emerged during the trial.

Following Donegan’s rulings, special prosecutor Peter Wilson closed the crown’s case, summing up all the evidence called against Blackmore and Oler over the last 11 days.

A video-recorded interview between an RCMP officer and Blackmore in 2009 and statements that Oler made to police in 2006 are key pieces of evidence for the Crown.

Blackmore admitted to having multiple wives to Sgt. Terry Jacklin after his arrest on a polygamy charge in 2009.

Blackmore was married to his first legal wife, Jane Blackmore, in 1975 but is accused of taking 24 additional wives through religious ‘celestial’ marriages between 1990 and 2014.

Wilson relied on marriage records seized by Texas law enforcement during a raid on the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch in April 2008. The ranch, a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints compound, contained marriage and personal records for members sealed in a bank vault structure.

The records are important, says Wilson, because of testimony from experts on Mormon doctrine and church history, who said that record-keeping is so important to the faith because they believe what is sealed on Earth is sealed in Heaven and the afterlife.

“The evidence supports that record-keeping was of significant spiritual importance to the FLDS church,” Wilson said.

He also highlighted the significance of Jane Blackmore’s testimony, noting that as his first legal wife, she sometimes attended the ceremonies of her husband’s marriages to other celestial wives.

In the case against Oler, who is accused of practicing polygamy with four wives between 1990 to 2009, Wilson pointed to similar marriage and personal records seized during the same raid at the YFZ ranch

He also noted Oler made admissions to police in 2005 and 2006 during an investigation into sexual exploitation at Bountiful.

During that investigation, Oler told police he had three wives and helped set up interviews with all three. Though the wives did not cooperate with police, the admission of having three wives is significant for the current polygamy trial, Wilson argued.

Wilson again pointed to Jane Blackmore, Oler’s sister, who knew he had three wives and provided prenatal care in her job as a midwife for at least one.

The trial adjourned Wednesday afternoon, with Suffredine planning on delivering his closing submissions on Thursday.