Former bishops guilty of polygamy
Two former bishops of an isolated religious commune in British Columbia have been found guilty of practising polygamy after a decades-long legal fight launched by the provincial government.
Winston Blackmore, 60, was married to Jane Blackmore and then married 24 additional women as part of so-called “celestial” marriages involving residents in the tiny community of Bountiful.
His co-defendant James Oler, 53, was accused at trial in B.C. Supreme of having five wives, and he too has been found guilty of polygamy.
Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said Monday the evidence proves that Blackmore has been a practising member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect that believes in plural marriage.
“His adherence to the practices and beliefs of the FLDS is not in dispute,” she said as she read her ruling in a Cranbrook, B.C. courtroom.
“Mr. Blackmore ... would not deny his faith in his 2009 statement to police. He spoke openly about his practice of polygamy.”
Blackmore was shown a list of his alleged wives and actually made two corrections to the details, Donegan said.
“Mr. Blackmore confirmed that all of his marriages were celestial marriages in accordance with FLDS rules and practices.”
Donegan praised the testimony of Jane Blackmore, calling her a highly credible and reliable witness.
“She was a careful witness,” Donegan said. “There was nothing contrived or rehearsed in her answers. She was impartial.”
Blackmore’s lawyer Blair Suffredine has already told the court that he would launch a constitutional challenge of Canada’s polygamy laws if his client was found guilty.
The 12-day trial earlier this year heard from mainstream Mormon experts, law enforcement who worked on the investigation and Jane Blackmore, a former wife of Winston Blackmore who left the community in 2003.
Oler was self-represented in the trial but had the services of Joe Doyle, an amicus curiae, a socalled friend of the court appointed to ensure a fair trial, though he could not offer any legal advice.
Doyle pointed to Oler’s police-seized records from a Texas raid in 2008, saying important events were missing, such as his client’s elevation to presiding elder in the community in June 2004. He also argued the Crown didn’t prove Oler continuously practised polygamy between 1993 and 2009.
Blackmore’s lawyer also attacked the credibility of marriage and personal records pertaining to members in the United States and Canada. They were seized from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, an FLDS church compound.
Winston Blackmore, left, arrives to hear the verdict in his trial in Cranbrook, B.C., on Monday. He was found guilty.