May 5, 2017

Defence challenges reliability of church records in B.C. polygamy trial

Vancouver Sun
May 4, 2017

CRANBROOK — The reliability of religious records and the wording in the indictment were questioned Thursday by lawyers during closing arguments in the trial of two Mormon fundamentalists charged with polygamy.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who are associated with a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community known as Bountiful, were charged three years ago with one count each of polygamy.

Justice Sheri Donegan is presiding over the B.C. Supreme Court trial.

The Crown’s case relied heavily on marriage and personal records seized by law enforcement from an FLDS compound in Texas in 2008. However, Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, attacked the credibility of the records, noting some of the appeared to be photocopies and not originals, while also charging that the Crown hadn’t proved the elements in the indictment.

Suffredine argued that prosecutors needed to prove both a continual form of practising polygamy as well as a form of conjugal union.

While the prosecutor produced the marriage records, Suffredine said that they’re only a snapshot of moment in time and not proof of a continuous relationship.

“There’s no evidence of who they lived with or how they lived,” he said.

The records are handwritten or typed, documenting so-called celestial marriages over a period from 1990 to 2014. But because some have a fax header from 2002, Suffredine contended that they’re not original. He also noted that when they were found inside a secure vault in the Texas compound, they were unorganized and were gathered from separate boxes and locations.

“How can you conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that that is reliable?” he asked.

The Crown also failed to prove that going through a marriage ceremony proves a conjugal union, Suffredine argued, noting that there was no evidence on how Blackmore lived with his wives, what home life was like, what economic supports were or attitudes toward child care.

‘There might be lots of evidence out there. You just don’t have any of it,” Suffredine said.

Oler is self-represented and made no closing argument. However, there is a court appointed amicus curiae — a “friend” of the court — whose job is to ensure a fair trial and act as a counter-balance to the prosecution. Doyle made similar submissions to Suffredine, arguing the unreliability of the FLDS records and charging that the Crown failed to prove that Oler continuously practised a form of polygamy between 1993 and 2009.

Doyle pointed to Oler’s own record seized in the Texas raid, noting there were important events missing, such as his elevation to presiding elder in June 2004.

The Crown called two experts in church history and doctrine who testified to the importance of record-keeping within the Mormon tradition. They explained that what both mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons believe is that any marriages “sealed” on Earth in religious ceremonies are also “sealed” in heaven.

Prosecutor Peter Wilson will make his rebuttal to the closing arguments Friday.

The 12-day trial was taken up mainly with evidence called by the prosecution including the FLDS records, testimony from Jane Blackmore (Blackmore’s first and only legal wife) as well as RCMP officers who have been involved in various investigations into Bountiful dating back to 2005.

Suffredine opted not to bring a defence case or witnesses forward. However, he has also filed notice of a charter challenge alleging abuse of process. The federal attorney general has been advised and may seek to intervene. The constitutional question won’t be addressed until after the trial has ended.

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