North America - Canada
Two men charged with practicing polygamy appear in B.C. court
By Daphne Bramham ("Vancouver Sun," January 21, 2009)
Creston, Canada - Two men charged with practicing polygamy in Bountiful, B.C. appeared in court Wednesday morning.
Neither Winston Blackmore, 52, nor James Oler, 44, entered a plea. Their cases have been held over until Feb. 18.
Between now and then, special prosecutor Terry Robertson will provide the men’s lawyers with what he described as “voluminous” files.
Provincial Court Judge Don Carlgren indicated that both he and the other local judge want to hear the cases. As Robertson explained to reporters after, this is not unusual because local judges often know the accused or know the witnesses.
During Oler’s brief appearance, Robertson also agreed to vary the conditions on Oler’s release to allow him to attend to business in Alberta. Both men were released on the conditions that they surrender their passports, stay within British Columbia, not enter into or perform any “celestial” or plural marriages and that they report to RCMP twice a month.
Blair Suffredine, Blackmore’s lawyer, said outside the courthouse that at some point Blackmore will likely ask to have his conditions amended to allow him to visit family in the United States.
Suffredine also said that as far as his client is concerned, most of the facts in the case will be agreed to. What Blackmore plans to dispute is the validity of the anti-polygamy section of the Criminal Code.
Blackmore, who had a Canadian flag lapel pin on, told reporters following his appearance that he’d re-read the religious freedom and the equality sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on Tuesday night and is convinced of his right as a Canadian to freely practise his religion.
Oler did not speak to reporters.
Blackmore is the former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful, B.C. Oler is the current bishop, who replaced Blackmore after he was ex-communicated.
Blackmore’s indictment lists 19 women with whom he is said to have “practiced a form of polygamy or practiced a kind of conjugal union” between May 1, 2005 and Dec. 8, 2006.
Oler’s indictment lists only two names: Renae Oler, his legal wife, and Amelia Steed.
Several of the women named in Blackmore’s indictment have been in the news before, having spoken at Blackmore’s “polygamy summit” in spring 2005. Ruth Lane defended her “lifestyle” and religious beliefs on an episode of TV’s Dr. Phil. A few months later, Lane left the group and returned to Utah.
Three of Blackmore’s other American ‘wives’ — Marsha Chatwin, Zelpha Chatwin and Edith Barlow were at his side during a news conference in 2006 when they made a public plea to be allowed to stay in Canada after having been given deportation orders by Immigration Canada.
All three are Americans came, married Blackmore in religious ceremonies and stayed. Each had seven or more children. Despite their public plea, they were deported later that year and moved to homes that Blackmore owns just a few kilometres south of Bountiful in Idaho.
Leah Barlow and Christina Blackmore are both midwives, well-known in the Creston Valley.
Two of other women listed in the Blackmore indictment — Lorraine Johnson and Shalina Palmer — married each other in a civil ceremony in December 2006, five months after Canada legalized same-sex marriage. Blackmore claimed at the time to know nothing about the civil marriage between Johnson, an American, and Palmer, a Canadian. Fundamentalist Mormons believe homosexuality is a sin.
However, the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of the issues that Blackmore’s lawyer Blair Suffredine says will help his client’s defence.
Blackmore and Oler each lead a faction within the community of about 1,000, which has been bitterly divided since 2002.
However, the criminal charges may bring the two sides a bit closer together.
A website set up to defend and only say positive things about the FLDS and its jailed leader Warren Jeffs (www.flds.ws) says Blackmore wants to remain autonomous, but has agreed to accept some help.
“I’m hoping we can keep the anti-FLDS and polygamy forces at bay long enough for the cases of Jimmy and Winston to wind their way through the Canadian Court’s and finally have polygamy legalized,” says Bill Medvecky, the site’s founder.