Verdict date set for polygamy trial

Justice Sheri Donegan will deliver ruling on polygamy trial in July.

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

A verdict for two fundamentalist Mormons charged with polygamy will be delivered on Monday, July 24, in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Justice Sheri Donegan scheduled the hearing last Friday in Kamloops Supreme Court with crown and defence lawyers phoning in to set the date.

The trial for Winston Blackmore and James Oler, members associated with the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community of Bountiful, ended a week ago after 13 days in session.

Blackmore is charged with having polygamous relationships with 24 women, while Oler is charged with five.

Peter Wilson, a special prosecutor appointed by the provincial government, relied on evidence from law enforcement and marriage and personal records seized from U.S. Texas Rangers from an FLDS compound. Other witnesses that provided evidence included experts on mainstream Mormon religious doctrine and church history and Jane Blackmore, the first legal wife of Winston Blackmore who has since left her husband and the FLDS community.

Justice Donegan also allowed Crown counsel to submit statements that Blackmore and Oler gave to police in 2009 and 2006, respectively, as evidence. Blackmore’s statement followed his arrest for polygamy in 2009, while Oler’s statements were a result of a sexual exploitation investigation in 2006.

Blair Suffredine, the defence lawyer for Blackmore, did not pursue a case after Crown closed. Oler is self-represented, however, Joe Doyle was appointed as amicus — a friend of the court — to make submissions in order to ensure a fair trial.

Prosecution history of Bountiful

Prosecuting polygamy in Bountiful has been 27 years in the making.

It’s the first trial of it’s kind in Canadian history, with the criminal polygamy law first passed over 127 years ago.

However, the latest attempt to lay charges for polygamy has its roots back in the early 1990s.

After an investigation into Bountiful, Crown counsel decided not to approve charges, fearing that any prosecution would fail based on the defence that the charges would infringe on the Charter right to freedom of religion.

In 2007, another investigation by RCMP wrapped up, however, Richard Peck, the special prosecutor at the time, declined to approve charges for the same reason. Peck concluded that there needed an authoritative statement from the courts addressing the constitutional issues in order for a prosecution to move forward.

Following Peck’s report, a second special prosecutor, Leonard Doust, came to the same conclusion.

Terry Robertson, a third special prosecutor, decided to approve charges in 2009, however, those charges were eventually thrown out and his appointment quashed by Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein in 2009. Stromberg-Stein ruled that the government had engaged in ‘special prosecutor-shopping’ and that the decision to charge Blackmore and Oler was unlawful.

From there — as initially recommended by Peck — the issue moved to a constitutional reference case that kicked off in October 2009. That essentially put Section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code — polygamy — on trial to determine it’s constitutionality.

In 2011, Justice Robert Bauman ruled that the harms associated with polygamy outweigh individual charter rights, upholding the constitutionality of Section 293 within the criminal code.

That paved the way for the current legal proceedings.

Wilson was appointed as the special prosecutor in 2012 and polygamy charges were approved in 2014. Blackmore attempted to have the charges and Wilson’s appointment thrown out, however, those were upheld both in BC Supreme Court in 2015 and in the Appeal Courts in 2016.

Two separate charges, two separate trials

The current polygamy charges were approved against Blackmore and Oler in 2014.

However, an additional charge was also approved against Oler and two other Bountiful members.

That charge — the unlawful removal of a child from Canada under a criminal code subsection that the removal would facilitate sexual interference or invitation to sexual touching — was approved against Oler, Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore and Brandon James Blackmore.

All three were accused of transporting their underaged daughters across the border to be married to FLDS men in the United States.

That went to trial in November; Brandon and Emily Blackmore were found guilty, while Oler was acquitted.

Wilson is appealing the acquittal, while the courts are waiting on a pre-sentencing report for the two Blackmores.

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