Winston Blackmore and James Oler, former leaders of the religious community Bountiful in southeastern BC, have been convicted of polygamy. Both are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a sect of the Mormon Church that believes in plural marriages. Blackmore was accused of having twenty-four wives, and Oler five. The Criminal Code prohibits polygamy, meaning the multiple “celestial” marriages Blackmore and Oler participated in were illegal.
The conviction does not come as a surprise, not even to the accused. Blackmore and Oler maintained their religious convictions throughout the trial, never denying their multiple marriages. Blackmore said of the verdict, “I’m guilty of living my religion and that’s all I’m saying today because I’ve never denied that.” Blackmore even went so far to say that he would have been disappointed if he had not been found guilty of living his religion.
Justice Sheri Donegan had previously blocked a constitutional question in the criminal trial, but now that her decision has come down Blackmore’s defence lawyer says he will launch a constitutional challenge to Canada’s polygamy laws. In 2011 a reference on the issue, the Supreme Court of BC determined that the law against polygamy was constitutional, that the harms of polygamy outweigh the right to freedom of religion.
Interestingly, the constitutional challenge originally proposed in this case was an abuse of process, not an infringement of religious freedom. The Crown was using evidence in their argument collected for the 2011 reference case and records from a FLDS compound in Texas that had been seized by police in 2008. The evidence from the Texas compound was collected in relation to the case against Brandon Blackmore (the older brother of Winston Blackmore) and his former wife Emily Blackmore, both who, earlier this year, were convicted of taking a 13-year old girl across the border to marry the prophet of the FLDS.
Blackmore noted that in decades past adultery and same-sex marriage were criminal acts, and constitutional challenges to those provisions succeeded in changing the law. When laws that prohibit certain conduct are struck down it is usually the result of a change in the social and political mindset, the most recent example being the right to medical assistance in dying (Carter v Canada). The question then becomes whether social and political views have changed to tolerate polygamy as an acceptable practice.
This blog post was written by a CCLA summer student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.