Nov 21, 2016

Daphne Bramham: Polygamist parents go on trial for child trafficking

Daphne Bramham
Vancouver Sun
November 20, 2016

Seventy years after a handful of fundamentalist Mormons staked out a secretive community in southeastern B.C. to practice the celestial law of plural marriage, three of their descendants will go on trial on Tuesday in Cranbrook.
It is the first trial of its kind, despite years of rumours and investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse and human trafficking. It comes nearly three decades after the first in a long string of B.C. attorneys general refused to lay charges against some of the group’s founders because of legal opinions warning that the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom might protect the practices in Bountiful.

The trial opens without Canada’s most notorious polygamist, Winston Blackmore, husband to 27 and father to 145. Blackmore was charged with one count of polygamy in 2014 at the same time as three others from Bountiful.

Blackmore contested the charge, arguing unsuccessfully at both the B.C. Supreme Court and at the B.C. Court of Appeal that the special prosecutor who recommended the charges had been improperly appointed.

With that out of the way, Blackmore’s trial will go ahead along with that of James Oler, who is also charged with one count of polygamy. A date has yet to be set for that trial.

But Oler will be in the Cranbrook courtroom on Tuesday, Nov. 22 charged along with Brandon James Blackmore and one of his wives, Emily Ruth Gail Crossfield Blackmore.

All three face the more serious criminal charge of taking children under the age of 16 out of Canada for illegal purposes. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

(In November 2005, the Criminal Code section was amended and it is now referred to as the child trafficking law.)

The charge information alleges that Oler took a child (referred to as C.E.O.) into the United States in June 2004 “with the intention of facilitating an act that would be an offence in Canada.”

Brandon and Gail Blackmore are accused of taking a child (known as M.M.B.) into the United States for illegal purposes in February 2004.
All three defendants are members or former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At least some of the evidence that is likely to be called during the 14-day trial was also used at FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs’s trial in Texas in 2011 when he was convicted on two counts of sexual assault of children. The charges related to his “marriage” to two girls aged 12 and 15.

Jeffs did extensive, daily dictations that detailed everything from his stray thoughts to the names and places of so-called celestial marriages to the directions given to parents about clandestine routes and precautions to be taken so that they would not be discovered transporting under-aged brides who were to be sealed in religious marriages in various sites across North America.

The records were seized during a 2008 raid on the FLDS’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas and included the names of 31 girls aged 12 to 17, who over a 10-year period were alleged to have been transported by their parents between Canada and the United States for religious marriages.

Copies of thousands of pages of diaries and dictations were posted online by the Texas court during Jeffs’s 2011 trial.

Some were also entered as evidence in B.C. Supreme Court in 2011 during the constitutional reference case along with a sworn affidavit from Texas Ranger Nick Hanna pointing to the documents related to 13 girls from Bountiful who ended up in celestial marriages in the United States.

Among those 13 girls were two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old “sealed” in marriages to Jeffs in 2004. At the time, Jeffs was 49 and a fugitive.

Hanna’s affidavit includes Jeffs’s description of a wedding day in 2004 in Colorado City, Ariz. with the names of the B.C. parents and the girls excerpted.

It also mentions that the documents mention Oler’s name “in a number of other marriages.”

According to the documents and Hanna’s affidavit, both of the 13-year-old’s parents participated at the Arizona ceremony.

They also include this rather chilling bit: “These young girls have been given to me to be taught and trained how to come into the presence of God and help redeem Zion from their youngest years before they go through teenage doubting and fears and boy troubles.

“I will just be their boy trouble and guide them right, the Lord helping me. I need to work with them more. Now I have a quorum of seven young girls living at R1 (a code name for one of Jeffs’s hiding places).”

A 2008 fax about the 13-year-old was also entered in evidence in the B.C. case. It was sent from a Texas child protection worker to a B.C. social worker informing that the Bountiful girl was among the mothers and children swept in the raid on the YFZ ranch.

So who are the defendants?

James Oler is the son of Dalmon Oler, one of Bountiful’s founders, who was the subject of a polygamy investigation in the 1990s that never resulted in charges because of the concern over the constitutionality of the polygamy law.

Oler is a mechanic, like his father. Although he served briefly as Bountiful’s bishop, Oler was ex-communicated and forced to leave his family and community a few years ago.

When he was arrested, Oler was living alone in an old school bus near Bountiful. Since then, he has been working in northern Alberta and is believed to be “repenting from afar” and paying steep tithes to try to return to Jeffs’s good graces.

Brandon Blackmore is an older brother of Winston Blackmore’s and the son of J.R. Blackmore, one of the community’s founders and its first leader. After his father died, Brandon and his other siblings were cut out of their father’s will. Their father’s property was subsequently handed over by Winston to the FLDS’s United Effort Plan trust. That property now is controlled by a special fiduciary appointed by the Utah court after Jeffs was deemed to be bleeding the fund for his own use.

Like Oler, Blackmore was ex-communicated by Jeffs and is believed to be trying to return to the prophet’s good graces.

His wife, Emily Ruth Gail Crossfield Blackmore, remains a loyal FLDS member and is living in a big house at Bountiful. She is the daughter of Robert Crossfield, the self-proclaimed Prophet Onias who was eventually ex-communicated by both the mainstream Mormon church and the FLDS. Among his revelations was that it is sinful to coerce a woman into marriage, and that women must have the right to make that decision for themselves.

Only Brandon Blackmore is being represented by a lawyer. Oler and Crossfield have elected to represent themselves. Because of that, the judge has appointed an amicus — Vancouver lawyer Joe Doyle — to act not as their lawyers, but as an adviser to the court.


1852 — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially announces the doctrine of plural marriages.

1888 — Charles O. Card, a fugitive fleeing charges of polygamy, arrives in Canada and asks the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, for special dispensation to bring their plural wives and other families to the community called Cardston. Macdonald refused and ordered the Northwest Mounted Police to watch the Mormons carefully. In 1889, the government passes legislation outlawing polygamy that specifically mentions Mormons.

1890 — The mainstream Mormon church renounces polygamy under pressure from the U.S. government, which threatened to send the army into Utah.

1946 — Harold Blackmore buys property near Creston, where he establishes a community now known as Bountiful. Among those who settled there were his uncle, Ray Blackmore, and Dalmon Oler.

1961 — Robert Crossfield, aka Prophet Onias, begins having revelations and moves to Bountiful. He preaches that it is sinful for a man to coerce a woman to marry him or even to ask a woman to marry him. He believed women must choose for the marriage to be legitimate. He is eventually kicked out of the community and ex-communicated by both the mainstream Mormon church and the group that became known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

October 1991 — RCMP conclude a 13-month investigation and recommend polygamy charges be laid against Dalmon Oler and Ray Blackmore’s son, Winston, who was the bishop. Eight months later, Attorney General Colin Gabelman decides not to lay charges after getting a legal opinion that suggests that the polygamy section of the Criminal Code is unconstitutional.

1993 — The B.C. Women’s ministry releases a report called Life In Bountiful that outlines abuses, including child brides and the practice of girls being traded back and forth across the border.

2002 — Ray Blackmore’s son, Winston, is ex-communicated and Dalmon Oler’s son, James Oler, becomes the FLDS bishop of Bountiful. The community splits between FLDS loyalists and those who follow Blackmore. Among those who choose the FLDS are Winston’s older brother, Brandon Blackmore, along with his wives, including Emily Crossfield (aka Gail Blackmore).

June 2004 — B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant launches an investigation into allegations of sex exploitation and abuse in Bountiful, but it is more than a year before the RCMP appoint two senior investigators.

August 2007 — Special Prosecutor Richard Peck questions whether the polygamy law is constitutional and recommends that the B.C. Court of Appeal determine that. Wally Oppal, a former Court of Appeal justice, disagrees and a month later appoints another special prosecutor, Leonard Doust, to review the evidence and Peck’s decision. But seven months later, Doust agrees with Peck. Oppal appoints another special prosecutor, Terry Robertson, who does recommend charges.

January 2009 — Winston Blackmore and James Oler are arrested and charged with one count each of polygamy. Those charges are stayed in September after a B.C. Supreme Court justice determines that Doust was improperly appointed.

November 2010 – Hearings begin in B.C. Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of Canada’s polygamy law. During the hearing, evidence is presented about Canadian parents who had taken their under-aged daughters to the United States to become plural wives. A year later, Chief Justice Robert Bauman determines that the law is constitutional.

January 2012 – Peter Wilson is appointed special prosecutor and asked to review the new evidence from the constitutional reference case.

Aug. 14, 2014 – At Wilson’s recommendation, Winston Blackmore is charged with one count of polygamy. James Marion Oler is charged with one count of polygamy and one court of unlawful removal of a child for sexual purposes. Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Crossfield (Gail Blackmore) are charged with one count of unlawful removal of a child for sexual purposes.

September 2015 – Wilson decides to proceed to trial against all four by direct indictment.

Nov. 14, 2016 – The trial of James Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Crossfield begins. No date has been set for Winston Blackmore’s trial.

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