Winston Blackmore, 61, Canada’s best-known polygamist, has publicly admitted to having multiple wives and many, many children. There are 24 women listed on his indictment.
His father was one of the founders of the fundamentalist Mormon community that’s known as Bountiful. The community was founded so that its members could practise polygamy or what’s known as “The Principle of Celestial Marriage.”
Until 2002, Blackmore was the bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in Bountiful, when he was excommunicated. Since then, he has led a breakaway faction with followers in both Canada and the U.S.
He was charged in 2009 with one count of polygamy, but that charge was stayed.
Blackmore unsuccessfully tried to have his group declared a commune for tax purposes, after the Canada Revenue Agency claimed he owed more than $1 million in back taxes.
James Marion Oler, 53, is also a former FLDS bishop of Bountiful and a son of one of the community’s founding fathers. There are four women named on his indictment.
Oler was working in Alberta when he was arrested in August 2014 and charged with one count of polygamy and one count of removing a child from Canada for unlawful purposes in 2004. He made no effort to defend himself on the removal charge that was heard in November. He was acquitted, although that is under appeal.
Oler has also refused legal counsel for this trial.
Along with Blackmore, Oler was charged in 2009 when the charges were stayed. But it was his father, Dalmon Oler, who was investigated in 1991 along with Blackmore. No charges resulted from that probe.
Sheri Donegan was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in 2013 after having served three years as a provincial court judge.
Before her appointment, Donegan was a prosecutor and known by her maiden name of Mark. Among the high-profile prosecutions she worked on was the horrific Allan Schoenborn case. Schoenborn was found guilty of murder, but not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.
He smothered his three children, ages 10, eight and five, and the 10-year-old girl had been struck repeatedly with a cleaver. The two boys were also strangled. Scrawled in blood and soy sauce on a wall were the messages “Forever Young” and “Gone to Neverland.”
Schoenborn’s defence lawyer was Peter Wilson.
Peter Wilson is a well-respected defence lawyer who has done a number of high-profile criminal trials, including Schoenborn.
He was appointed special prosecutor in January 2012 after a constitutional reference case in B.C. Supreme Court, where it was determined that Canada’s polygamy law didn’t breach the Charter of Rights and Freedom’s provision of religious freedom.
In August 2014, Wilson laid charges against four people from Bountiful. The charges were unusual and rarely, if ever, prosecuted. James Marion Oler and Winston Blackmore were charged with one count each of polygamy.
Oler, Brandon James Blackmore, a cousin of Winston Blackmore, and Emily Gail Ruth Blackmore, Brandon’s wife, were charged with the unlawful removal of a child for illegal purposes. Oler was acquitted. The Blackmores are awaiting sentencing.
Micah Rankin is assisting Wilson. Rankin is an associate professor of law at Thompson Rivers University, where he teaches constitutional law, evidence and criminal law. Among his colleagues is Craig Jones, who was the provincial government’s lead lawyer for the polygamy constitutional reference case.
Rankin articled with Joseph Arvay, who has been Winston Blackmore’s lawyer on several occasions.
Rankin has appeared several times before the Supreme Court of Canada and assisted Wilson both during the removal trial and in 2010-11. That’s when as special prosecutor Wilson investigated breaches of the Elections Act. Former B.C. solicitor-general Kash Heed was cleared of wrongdoing, but two others were charged with seven Elections Act offences and three criminal charges, including forgery and obstructing the RCMP.
Rankin’s grandfather was longtime Vancouver city councillor and lawyer Harry Rankin, who helped establish B.C.’s legal-aid system. His father is Vancouver lawyer Phil Rankin.
Joseph Doyle is a Vancouver trial lawyer appointed by the judge to act on the court’s behalf both in this trial and the previous removal trial after James Oler refused legal counsel.
As amicus, Doyle isn’t acting on Oler’s behalf, but as a “friend to the court.” His role is to help explain legal issues to the unrepresented defendant and also to provide legal advice to the court, including on issues of whether certain evidence should be admitted, legal precedents and sentencing. He also has the power to question witnesses.
THE DEFENCE LAWYER
Blair Suffredine practises law in Creston and is a former B.C. Liberal MLA who represented the Nelson-Creston riding from 2001 to ’05. He was the MLA when Suffredine first met Winston Blackmore.
Earlier this year, Suffredine told The Globe and Mail, “It might be that on the facts he (Blackmore) has breached that law, that could be the case, but he claims the right to practise his religion and the Charter protects his religion.”
Suffredine was also Blackmore’s lawyer in 2009, when he suggested that because same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, polygamy should also be allowed.
But it was Arvay who successfully argued that year that Blackmore’s polygamy charge should be stayed because the special prosecutor had been improperly appointed. It’s an argument Arvay made unsuccessfully last year when he tried to get the current charge dropped.
In 2009, Suffredine said that while he doesn’t personally support the practice of polygamy, he blamed the media for putting pressure on the government to enforce the polygamy law.
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