British Columbia

Bountiful sect members face polygamy, child-related charges

Several members of the same family in Bountiful, B.C., face polygamy and child-related charges, the latest attempt to prosecute members of the isolated religious community.

Charges are latest attempt to prosecute members of the isolated religious community

Bountiful sect members face polygamy charges

8 years ago
Duration 2:30
Charges are latest attempt to prosecute members of the isolated religious community

British Columbia's Criminal Justice Branch has approved polygamy and child-related charges against several members of the same family in an isolated religious community in Bountiful, B.C.

Winston Kaye Blackmore and his brother-in-law James Marion Oler are facing polygamy charges. Oler is alleged to have had four wives between 1993 and 2009, while Winston Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women between 1990 and 2014.

Oler and two others, Blackmore's son Brandon James Blackmore and his wife Emily Ruth Crossfield, are also alleged to have unlawfully removed a child under 16 from Canada "with the intention that an act be committed outside Canada that would be an offence against Section 151 (sexual interference) or 152 (invitation to sexual touching)," according to a Criminal Justice Branch news release.

Special prosecutor Peter Wilson "declined to approve" other charges, such as alleged offences of sexual exploitation. The standard for approving charges "was not met in relation to these offences," said the release.

Many residents of Bountiful follow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which, unlike the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds polygamy as a tenet of the faith.

James Marion Oler and Winston Kaye Blackmore are leaders of two factions of the FLDS and were charged with similar polygamy offences in 2009.

Two young girls of the polygamous community of Bountiful walk past the mountains at Bountiful near Creston, B.C., in April 2008. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The prosecution of that case fell through, after the first special prosecutors recommended against charges over concerns that a ban on polygamy violated the right to religious freedom.

The new charges against Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Crossfield alleging the removal of children from Canada are thought to relate to girls being taken across the Canada-U.S. border to be married.

According to special prosecutor Peter Wilson, the latest report he received from RCMP in January 2014 contained material that was "new and derived from investigations in the United States that involved members of the FLDS communities in Arizona, Texas and Utah."

 The new charges of child removal "are based primarily on new information that came to light as a result of investigations that unfolded in the United States," writes Wilson. 

The first court appearance in the case is scheduled for Oct. 9, 2014 in Creston provincial court.

Polygamy investigation began in 2005

The new charges are just the latest stage in a decade-long effort by RCMP and the B.C. government to prosecute members of the isolated religious community for polygamy.

Students play basketball on April 28, 2008, in the polygamist community of Bountiful near Creston, B.C. (Joe Sales/Associated Press)

The RCMP investigation into allegations of polygamy in the isolated, rural community in southeastern B.C. began in 2005 and included interviews with 90 people in B.C., Utah, Idaho and Nevada.

But after the investigation, B.C.'s Crown prosecutors remained reluctant to lay polygamy charges for fear they would be declared unconstitutional on the basis of religious freedom.

Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal then appointed special prosecutors Richard Peck and later Len Doust, who both recommended the government get a court ruling on the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy laws.

In June 2008, Oppal hired a third special prosecutor, Terrence Robertson, to review the results of the latest police investigation and consider charges against men in the polygamous community.

The following year, Robertson recommended polygamy charges against Blackmore and Oler.

However, in September 2009, a B.C. court threw out the polygamy charges against the two religious leadersruling Oppal was wrong to ask Robertson to take the case after the first two prosecutors decided the men should not be charged.

The government then asked the B.C. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the polygamy ban.

During lengthy hearings, the court heard evidence that teenage girls in Bountiful were taken across the Canada-U.S. border to be married.

In November 2011, Chief Justice Robert Bauman upheld the polygamy ban, ruling it infringed on some sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also that the criminalization of polygamy is justified.

Bauman also suggested the law shouldn’t be used to criminalize minors who find themselves married into polygamous unions.​

In 2012, the B.C. government appointed Wilson as the next special prosecutor for the case.

Bountiful charges timeline

Polygamy investigation by RCMP begins.

First special prosecutor Richard Peck recommends against charges.
Peck recommends province asks courts whether polygamy is constitutional.
Then B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal appoints second special prosecutor Leonard Doust.

Doust recommends against charges, agrees with Peck.
Oppal appoints third special prosecutor Terrence Robertson.

Jan. 2009
Robertson recommends charges.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler charged with polygamy.

Sept. 2009
Charges against Blackmore and Oler thrown out.
B.C. Supreme Court rules Crown acted improperly by "special prosecutor shopping".

Oct. 2009
Province asks B.C. Supreme Court to examine the constitutionality of polygamy.

B.C. Supreme Court rules that the polygamy law is constitutional.
RCMP begin investigation of allegations Bountiful "child brides" being taken to U.S.

Peter Wilson is appointed special prosecutor.

Wilson recommends charges.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler charged with polygamy again.
Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Crossfield charged with unlawfully removing two children from Canada back in 2004.