Former Mormon fundamentalists testify in child bride trial

Crown witnesses describe the control that church leadership held over men, women and children

Evidence from a process determining admissibility was rolled into the formal trial of a man charged with the alleged removal of a child from Canada that began on Thursday in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Three former members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect testified for Crown prosecutors in the case against James Marion Oler, who is accused of taking his underage daughter from Canada into the United States to marry a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

In his opening statement, Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson said the Crown’s case relies on evidence proving that Oler should have reasonably expected his daughter to be placed in a relationship that would facilitate sexual offences.

“Establishing that Mr. Oler intended his daughter to be the object of sexual exploitation requires proof that he acted with what is sometimes described as an ulterior intent,” said Wilson. “In the circumstances of this case, that requires proof that he did anything for the purpose of facilitating an act outside Canada that would be an offence under Section 153 of the Criminal Code, if it happened in Canada.”

Oler is associated with the polygamous community of Bountiful, south of Creston in the B.C. Interior.

READ: Judge admits contested documents into child bride trial

A former FLDS member, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said she drove with her parents in a van across the Porthill U.S.A border on June 24, 2004. Shortly after crossing the border, the van turned into a highway pullout and she left the vehicle to go into the woods to relieve herself.

After returning from the forest, she said another van had pulled up, which contained — among others — Jim Oler and his daughter. The whole group, except for one member, piled into the newly arrived van and continued to Cedar City, Utah.

Staying overnight, the group headed to Mesquite, Nevada, the next day, where the Crown witness and Oler’s daughter were married in separate FLDS ceremonies, according to her testimony as documentation from an FLDS church record that listed 18 weddings that day.

Another church record, consisting of an audio recording by Warren Jeffs — the FLDS president and prophet — described a phone call that the church leader had with Oler, instructing him to bring his daughter to be married.

FLDS members, particularly women, are taught from birth about the importance of obedience to fathers and husbands for heavenly salvation purposes, according to testimony from another witness — Warren Jeffs’ own daughter, Rachel.

Rachel Jeffs left the FLDS four years ago, but grew up in the fundamentalist Mormon faith in Sandy Hill, Utah. She said she attended an academy led by her father that included at least two hours a day of training in FLDS religious doctrine.

“We were taught that obedience is the first law of heaven,” said Jeffs. “To get into heaven, we were taught that we had to obey our priesthood head. The priesthood head consists of the father in the home or the husband, depending what station of life you were in.”

Rachel Jeffs said she was placed in an arranged marriage when she was 18 years old, and was her husband’s third wife.

“I knew I didn’t really have a choice,” said Rachel Jeffs. “They told me I had a choice, but I knew that if I said no, then they would kick me out of the church or…I wouldn’t have any blessings. And I was told that if I didn’t obey, I would lose my place in Heaven.”

“…I was taught that I should submit to my husband in obedience, that he was my leader and my priesthood head and as a wife, I should cook and clean and sew and have children and take care of the children.”

A third Crown witness, Brandon Seth Blackmore, testified that he last saw Oler and his daughter at a FLDS church gathering roughly a week before the wedding of Oler’s daughter on June 25, 2004.

Brandon Seth Blackmore testified that Oler’s daughter sang an old Mormon ballad — This is Our Last Farewell — on the guitar.

“I remember he [Oler] was extremely emotional while she was singing the song,” said Brandon Seth Blackmore. “The atmosphere of the whole meeting was quite sad and emotional. He was crying.”

Brandon Seth Blackmore left the FLDS church in 2012.

During his upbringing, Brandon Seth Blackmore was taught that plural marriage, or celestial marriage, was a required religious doctrine in order to get into heaven.

“I was taught that a woman’s role was to sustain and support her husband and to conceive, bear and bring children forth through a celestial marriage,” he said.

The trial will continue on Friday in Cranbrook, with Crown prosecutors hoping to present closing arguments by next week.



trevor.crawley@cranbrooktownsman.com

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