Polygamy charges in Bountiful, B.C., thrown out
B.C. Supreme Court Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein ruled Wednesday that the attorney general did not have the authority to appoint a new special prosecutor to consider the cases of Winston Blackmore and James Oler of Bountiful, B.C., after the first special prosecutors recommended against charges.
Blackmore and Oler had petitioned the court to stay the charges, arguing that the B.C. attorney general had gone "special prosecutor shopping" until he found someone who would go ahead with charges.
The judge agreed, ruling the appointment of special prosecutor Terrence Robertson — and therefore the decision to charge the men — was "unlawful."
"This has been a long, hard year for us. It's been stressful for my family, stressful on me," Blackmore told CBC News after getting word of the court's decision.
"I'm relieved and happy and am going to carry on with my life," Blackmore said.
B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong said the provincial government will consider an appeal.
"The first order of business will be to read the decision in its entirety, which I haven't done yet," de Jong said. "Obviously, I will talk to officials within the ministry and a decision will be made around a possible appeal."
De Jong said Oppal made a difficult decision with the best of intentions when he appointed the third prosecutor.
RCMP probe led to charges
Blackmore and Oler, leaders of two factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based in the southeastern Interior B.C. community of Bountiful, were arrested earlier this year and charged with one count each of breaching Section 293 of the Criminal Code — which bans polygamy — by entering into a conjugal relationship with more than one individual at a time.
The RCMP investigation into allegations of polygamy in the isolated, rural community began in 2005 and included interviews with 90 people in B.C., Utah, Idaho and Nevada.
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.
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 before trying to press charges against men in the polygamous community.
Special prosecutors are used in B.C. to replace regular Crown counsel in politically sensitive cases, to avoid the possibility of political interference.
Oppal was a high-profile member of the B.C. Liberal government but failed to win a seat in the May 2009 provincial elections after switching to the Delta South riding from Vancouver-Fraserview.
With files from The Canadian Press