CRANBROOK, B.C. – It doesn’t matter that both Winston Blackmore and James Oler had child brides because that’s not what they’re on trial for.
What matters for a conviction in this trial where each man is charged with a single count of polygamy is that the prosecutor proves that they married multiple times in religious ceremonies.
Still, evidence entered Monday points to an inescapable conclusion that some of their wives were younger than 18. Two of Blackmore’s were only 15.
It does once again raise the question: Why isn’t Blackmore on trial for sexual exploitation? Why isn’t Oler?
It’s a question that RCMP investigators have been trying to get an answer for since 2006 when they filed a lengthy report to the B.C. Attorney General’s criminal justice branch recommending both men be charged with sexual exploitation and polygamy.
Under cross-examination, the lead investigator Sgt. Terry Jacklin said it remains an open question.
“We have had no communication why sexual exploitation charges were not laid,” he said. “We have never had an explanation and no communication.”
But Jacklin noted as bishops in positions of authority, Blackmore and Oler engaged in sexual relations with girls who were young enough that it constituted an offence under the criminal code.
Although not charged with sexual exploitation, the criminal justice branch did charge each of them with one count of polygamy in 2009.
Those charges were stayed after Blackmore’s lawyer successfully argued that the special prosecutor had been improperly appointed.
RCMP were asked to reopen the investigation after the polygamy law was found to be constitutional in 2011 because there was new evidence.
Boxes of marriage records, personal records and other church documents had been found in 2008 in the FLDS’s Yearning For Zion ranch in Texas. Among those boxes were marriage and personal records for both Oler and Blackmore.
Those records have already been entered as evidence in this case by Jacklin and Texas Ranger Nick Hanna.
But even with those records, the criminal justice branch and special prosecutor Peter Wilson only approved polygamy charges.
On Monday, the B.C. birth certificates for Blackmore’s 24 wives and for one of each of their children were entered along with the records for Oler’s five wives and children. (Only four women are named on Oler’s indictment, despite the five marriage records.)
Earlier in the day, Jacklin played the videotape of the interview he did with Blackmore in 2009. Blackmore didn’t deny that he was a polygamist.
“If I’m guilty of something it’s being Mormon,” he said.
(It’s a comment certain to raise the ire of mainstream Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended the practice in 1890. Mormon fundamentalists including Blackmore and, before him, his father refused to accept that and have splintered off. While Blackmore calls himself a Mormon, other fundamentalist describe themselves as “true Mormons.”)
Blackmore went on to say: “In our faith, so many people never ever had a chance to get married. Why that is I don’t know. To have family like I have is a huge reason for people to be jealous.”
He claimed that he’s opposed to under-aged marriages. Under-aged marriages only began after 1998 when FLDS prophet and president Rulon Jeffs had a stroke. His son, Warren, began influencing his father.
“All of a sudden our president told us that we were no longer going to participate in plural marriages of people [who were] not 18,” said Blackmore.
“When I marry them, people have to prove how old they are. They need to be educated. That’s what I want for my children.”
During the 2009 interview, Blackmore bragged that because of his arrest, a crew from CNN was probably on its way and that “Larry King has probably emailed a couple of times.”
It was on King’s show in 2006 that Blackmore first said that he’d married a girl who was only 15. He told King that she’d lied about her age, joking that that’s common for women. But he said to both interviewers that the girl was 17 before she had her first child.
Birth records entered Monday indicate that the wife whose parents allegedly lied and said their daughter was 17, was only 15 ½ on the wedding day. Her first child was born 16 months later.
The records also indicate that another wife was six months shy of her 16th birthday as well. Ten months later, when she was barely 16, their first child was born.
Despite that, Justice Sheri Donegan is limited to the charges before her.
So, instead of facing the prospect of a maximum jail sentence of 10 years and a mandatory minimum of one year if convicted, the maximum these two men now face is five years.
The RCMP investigators would still like to know why the more serious charges weren’t laid. So too, I suspect, would most British Columbians.