CRANBROOK, British Columbia — A British Columbia Supreme Court judge imposed conditional sentences on two men who belong to a breakaway Mormon sect after convicting them of polygamy.
Winston Blackmore, a leader in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was found guilty Tuesday of having 24 wives. The court found James Oler, also a leader in the FLDS church that has its root in communities on the Utah-Arizona border in the United States, had five wives.
Blackmore’s six-month conditional sentence to be served under house arrest allows him to go to work and deal with medical emergencies, sparing him prison time. Oler’s term is similar but with three months of house arrest.
The maximum sentence for polygamy under the Canada's Criminal Code is five years in prison. Only two other convictions for polygamy have taken place in Canadian history.
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Both men, who are part of the 1,000-resident community of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia less than 2 miles from the Idaho border, face 12 months of probation. The first Fundamentalist Mormons went into hiding after the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy in September 1890 and eventually established the settlement of Short Creek on the Utah-Arizona border.
In the early 2000s, the cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, were thrust into the public spotlight when Warren Jeffs, FLDS president and prophet, began facing sex and sexual-assault charges in connection with his plural marriages to young girls and his arrangement of marriages of underage girls to older men in his church.
The FLDS church also has small settlements near Crawford, Colo.; near Las Vegas; near Mancos, Colo.; near Pioche, Nev.; and near Pringle, S.D., the Deseret (Utah) News reported in 2008.
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Jeffs, 62, is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl that he claimed were his spiritual wives. He will be eligible for parole on July 22, 2038, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
While both Blackmore and Oler are hard working and otherwise law abiding, Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said a discharge — in Canadian law, wiping away a criminal record after conviction — would not be appropriate given the gravity of their offenses. Some of the men’s wives were as young as 15 when they were married.
“He’s made it clear that no sentence will deter him from practicing his faith,” the judge said of Blackmore, 61, who has 149 children. “The concept of remorse is foreign to him in this context.”
Oler’s crimes were motivated by his “sincerely held religious beliefs instilled in him at an early age,” Donegan said.
Blackmore also was ordered to perform 150 hours of community service work. Oler must do 75 hours.
Dozens of Blackmore’s supporters were in court, and some cried when the sentence was read.
Blackmore’s lawyer had asked the judge to consider all possible sentences in the case, including an absolute discharge.
Because the two other Canadian polygamy convictions took place in 1899 and 1906, Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson told the judge they didn’t set a precedent in determining sentences for the men.
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