Crown seeks jail for po­lyg­a­mists

Ottawa Citizen - - CANADA - Gemma karstens-smith

CRANBROOK, B.C. • Two men con­victed of prac­tis­ing polygamy in British Columbia were mo­ti­vated by “sin­cerely held re­li­gious be­liefs,” but their sen­tences should in­clude jail time to de­nounce their crimes and de­ter oth­ers, a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor said Tues­day.

Peter Wilson rec­om­mended Win­ston Black­more serve be­tween 90 days and six months in jail and James Oler one month to 90 days, telling Jus­tice Sheri Ann Done­gan of the B.C. Supreme Court: “They are both, by all ac­counts, lawabid­ing, hard-work­ing ci­ti­zens, hon­est men.”

There are only two other con­vic­tions for polygamy in Cana­dian his­tory, but be­cause those cases took place in 1899 and 1906 they do not help in de­ter­min­ing sen­tences for Black­more and Oler, he said.

Black­more’s lawyer, Blair Suf­fre­dine, asked the judge to con­sider all pos­si­ble sen­tences in the case, in­clud­ing an ab­so­lute dis­charge.

He said that would al­low Black­more to con­tinue to work at his sawmill so he can sup­port his fam­ily, and would not leave him with a crim­i­nal record, which could pre­vent vis­its to the U.S. where three of his wives live.

The con­vic­tions tell the com­mu­nity that polygamy is il­le­gal and peo­ple who prac­tise it may be pros­e­cuted, Suf­fre­dine said.

“In my sub­mis­sion, that’s all that’s re­quired here, is to tell the com­mu­nity, fi­nally, that it’s not pro­tected and you take the risk that you’ll be pros­e­cuted,” he said.

Done­gan re­served her de­ci­sion and will set a sen­tenc­ing date for some­time in the next six weeks on Fri­day.

She found Black­more, 62, guilty last July of polygamy for mar­ry­ing two dozen women, while Oler, 54, was found to have mar­ried five women.

The court­room was packed for Tues­day’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, mostly with mem­bers of Black­more’s fam­ily. There were not enough seats for ev­ery­one and a video link was set up for the over­flow crowd in another court­room.

Dur­ing a break, about three dozen of Black­more’s chil­dren and wives stood out­side hold­ing signs: Fam­i­lies not felons and There is no cookie cut­ter for fam­ily.

The max­i­mum sen­tence for polygamy un­der the Crim­i­nal Code is five years in prison.

Suf­fre­dine said the un­usual cir­cum­stances of the case need to be taken into ac­count, in­clud­ing decades of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and court pro­ceed­ings, as well as Black­more’s pos­i­tive in­flu­ence in the com­mu­nity and his re­li­gious be­liefs.

“None of this was done with the in­ten­tion of break­ing the law. All of it was done through le­git­i­mate re­li­gious be­liefs,” he ar­gued.

Oler did not have le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in court, but lawyer Joe Doyle was ap­pointed as an am­i­cus cu­riae, a so-called friend of the court, to en­sure a fair trial.

Doyle did not rec­om­mend a spe­cific sen­tence but told the court Oler is hard-work­ing and im­pris­on­ment may not be nec­es­sary to de­ter and de­nounce polygamy.

“Clearly, those ob­jec­tives can be met with other forms of sen­tences as well,” he said.

Both Black­more and Oler have been lead­ers in the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, which con­dones plu­ral mar­riage. They have both been part of the tiny com­mu­nity of Boun­ti­ful in south­east­ern B.C.

Suf­fre­dine had asked the court to stay the charges against his client after the guilty ver­dicts, ar­gu­ing the law against polygamy in­fringed on Black­more’s char­ter rights to re­li­gious free­dom. Done­gan dis­missed the ar­gu­ments in March, say­ing Black­more and Oler knew that en­ter­ing into mul­ti­ple mar­riages is il­le­gal.

In 1991, the RCMP com­pleted a 13-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Boun­ti­ful by rec­om­mend­ing polygamy charges against Black­more and another man, but B.C.’s at­tor­ney gen­eral de­cided not to lay charges be­cause of un­cer­tainty over re­li­gious free­doms un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion.

The B.C. Supreme Court up­held the polygamy laws in a 2011 ref­er­ence case, rul­ing that a sec­tion of the Crim­i­nal Code ban­ning plu­ral mar­riages is con­sti­tu­tional. The court’s chief jus­tice said the harm against women and chil­dren out­weighs con­cerns over pro­tect­ing re­li­gious free­dom.


Sup­port­ers of Win­ston Black­more pose for the cam­eras out­side court in Cranbrook, B.C., on Tues­day. A spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor says two lead­ers of a re­li­gious sect in Boun­ti­ful, south­east­ern B.C., who were con­victed of polygamy must be sen­tenced to jail time...


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