Dec 9, 2016

Daphne Bramham: More sex-related charges likely in polygamous B.C. community of Bountiful

The interpretation off fundamentalist Mormon records cast reasonable doubt on the whether a member of a polygamous community had the intent of taking his 14-year-old daughter to the U.S. for immediate marriage, a defence lawyer argued on Tuesday

Vancouver Sun

December 4, 2016

CRANBROOK — Even if three parents from the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful aren’t convicted of taking their under-aged daughters to the U.S. to become child brides, their trial could be the first of many.

That is because the most significant ruling in the trial was Justice Paul Pearlman’s decision to admit documents seized by Texas Rangers as evidence against James Oler, Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Gail Blackmore.

The tens of thousands of pages of documents include family records, marriage records and dictations made by Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting his child brides.

But those documents don’t only include the marriage records and detailed instructions given to Oler and the Blackmores regarding the delivery of their 13- and 15-year-old daughters into religious marriages. They also provide details of at least 30 other weddings of under-aged FLDS girls who are either from Bountiful or are Americans married to Canadian husbands.

And unlike in the United States, Canada has no statute of limitations for the prosecution of sexual crimes.

The prophet’s dictations describe, for example, how a father and son from Bountiful used untraceable cellphones, stayed in secret FLDS refuges, and eventually acted as decoys to safely deliver their 12-year-old daughters to Jeffs in 2005.

The Texas records are also likely to be useful in the coming prosecution in B.C. Supreme Court of Oler and Winston Blackmore, who are charged with one count each of polygamy. There were 24 women listed on Blackmore’s indictment and four on Oler’s. Both men were at one time the FLDS bishop of Bountiful. That trial is set to start on April 10 in Cranbrook and run for 20 days.

Of course, getting a conviction in this first trial would make it more likely that special prosecutor Peter Wilson will lay more charges.

The current case includes both the documentary evidence and the testimony of former FLDS members, including two midwives from Bountiful, a daughter and a son of Brandon Blackmore who were married the same day in 2004 as their 13-year-old sister, and one of Jeffs’s daughters.

The common thread of their evidence is what they were taught: Polygamy and the unquestioning obedience to God, the prophet and — for women and girls — to their husbands and fathers are essential to their salvation.

All of the witnesses had their marriage partners chosen for them by the prophet.

Esther Palmer was 16 when she became a second wife to an older man. She said she agreed because only married women with children are allowed to continue their education and she wanted to be a nurse and a midwife.

As an FLDS member in 2008, Palmer admitted that she lied to RCMP. She had denied knowledge of any girls under 18 having given birth in Bountiful in the previous two years.

But there was one girl. She was Oler’s wife.

Palmer said she lied both to protect Oler, who is her brother, and because she believed at the time that she was obeying God’s laws and didn’t have to follow the laws of Canada.

Both of Blackmore’s children testified that they didn’t question their arranged marriages. The son was 21 at the time and his sister was 16. Both said they obeyed the instructions they were given even when it meant marrying strangers.

Under cross-examination by her father’s lawyer, however, the daughter (whose name is protected by a publication ban) admitted that her father did tell her she didn’t have to go through with wedding.

Yet, aside from cross-examining witnesses, Blackmore’s lawyer submitted no evidence on his client’s behalf.

Having chosen to represent themselves, Oler and Gail Blackmore also provided no defence. They have sat silently throughout the proceedings — just as their prophet did during his Texas trial.

To get convictions, the special prosecutor must convince the judge that all three parents knew what they were doing and that the consequences of their actions would result in their daughters being sexually exploited or sexually touched.

What the threshold of proof is, none of the lawyers nor the judge has any precedents to look to for guidance because the criminal offence of unlawful removal of a child for illegal purposes has never before been prosecuted.

Still, absent any counter evidence to the Crown’s case, it is hard to imagine an acquittal. “Just following orders” is not a defence — not even if the parents believe the orders came from on high.

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