Dec 11, 2016

'I felt like I had been sucker punched,' former plural wife tells court

Vancouver Sun
DAPHNE BRAMHAMNovember 24, 2016

CRANBROOK — It was May 1975 and 18-year-old Jane Oler had just been told that God — through the prophet of the fundamentalist Mormon church — had decided she would marry Winston Blackmore the next morning.

“I felt like I had been sucker punched. I felt like I was going to throw up,” she said Wednesday through tears as she testified in B.C. Supreme Court.

“I knew Winston very well. Had I chosen, he would not have been the man I would have chosen for my husband,” she said, noting that they were the same age and had been the only two in their grade all through their education at Hope Private School.

“I didn’t feel like I was in a position to refuse. I believed at the time that I had received instructions from God and … if I had not followed those instructions (God) would send me to damnation.”

So, the daughter of the church’s presiding elder went ahead with the ceremony. But after seven children and 27-½ years of marriage, during which time her husband took another 26 wives, Jane Blackmore left her husband, her faith and the polygamous community of Bountiful in 2003.

On Wednesday, she was a witness in the trial of three parents who are accused of taking their under-aged daughters to the United States for illegal purposes in 2004. Their daughters were both under 14 at the time and are alleged to have been taken across the border to become child brides.

James Oler, Brandon Blackmore and Emily Gail Blackmore face between five and 10 years in jail, if convicted.

Because the Crown must prove that the parents transported them with the intent that they would be put into illegal marriages, prosecutor Peter Wilson called Jane Blackmore to give evidence about how her father had instructed her and her siblings — including her half-brother James Oler — regarding obedience, plural marriage, arranged marriages, and the roles that men and women had to play to be successful in that society.

She testified too about what all of them — including her former in-laws, Brandon and Gail Blackmore — had been taught at church meetings and in school.

Girls and women had to do exactly as their fathers and then their husbands told them, down to the fine details like how to wear their hair and the colour of their dresses. Winston told Jane she could only wear black, brown or dark blue. Her father had let her wear colours.

How much education children received was up to their fathers or the presiding elders. Who they married depended on who the “prophet” chose.

At the time that the offences are alleged to have occurred, the community was in turmoil over who was the rightful successor to Prophet Rulon Jeffs, who had died in 2002.

Half the community believed it was Winston Blackmore, and half believed it was Rulon’s son, Warren. The power struggle divided siblings, with Brandon Blackmore and his wives and children turning against his brother, Winston.

Jane’s brother, James Oler, took over from Winston as the bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

They all still believed in plural marriage, and that a man needed three wives to get into the highest realm of the celestial heaven. They all still believed in placement marriage because prior to their birth they had made covenants with other spirits to marry and God revealed that to the prophet.

They all still believed that women and girls had to be obedient to their “priesthood head” — their father or husband. That was why whatever Jane Blackmore earned as a nurse at the Creston Valley Hospital or as the head of the Bountiful Midwifery Clinic, she handed it over to her husband, who then handed back the amount of money he thought she needed.

She and all the others had been taught and still believed after the split that the role of women was to become ‘”mothers in Zion” and to be the tabernacle — pure vessels — transforming as many spirits as possible into the mortal flesh of God’s Chosen People.

They all had been taught that using birth control was a sin, that marriages ought to be consummated as quickly as possible, and that women should have as many children as they were able.

They had been taught that sexual intercourse was only for procreation. They had been taught that women could never say no, even if they were at risk of dying during pregnancy.

And it was in that highly charged atmosphere of a power struggle that left broken hearts and split families that the offences are alleged to have taken place.

The trial continues Thursday. After Jane Blackmore is finished testifying, next on the witness stand will be Esther Palmer, the midwife who chose to serve Warren Jeffs and the mothers on the FLDS side.

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