Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2018 – 4:47 PM
(AFP) Two leaders of a fundamentalist Mormon community were sentenced to house arrest Tuesday in the first real test of Canada’s 130-year-old ban on having more than one wife.
Winston Blackmore, 60, and James Oler, 53, were convicted last year of polygamy after much legal wrangling and scrutiny of their lifestyles.
Blackmore was given a six-month conditional sentence to be served under house arrest, while Oler received three months.
The pair had each faced a possible maximum five years in prison for marrying two dozen and five women, respectively — with whom they fathered more than 160 children between them.
There have been only two other convictions for polygamy in Canada, in 1899 and 1906.
This latest case took two decades to get to trial.
Three special prosecutors had been appointed during that period to consider bringing charges against Blackmore and Oler, but had backed down over concerns that the law prohibiting polygamy violated Canadians’ constitutional right to religious freedom.
Those fears were assuaged in 2011 when the British Columbia high court ruled in a reference case that the inherent harms of polygamy justified putting limits on religious freedoms, clearing the way for charges to be laid in 2014 against Blackmore and Oler.
Blackmore had long defended his polygamy to reporters, at a summit organized by his wives, in civil trials in the United States and under oath in Canadian federal tax court in 2012, when he struggled to name all of his wives, missing one.
He described a tight-knit group in his community in Bountiful, British Columbia that grows, raises or hunts its own food, and runs a barter economy — trading labor for chickens with a neighbor, for example.
The community was founded by one of his ancestors nearly 70 years ago and practiced polygamy unhindered until federal police launched an investigation in the late 1990s after receiving a complaint from a former member.
Bountiful, in a remote mountainous region near the US border, is affiliated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist religious sect that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.
Polygamy within the Mormon tradition was disavowed in 1890, but that led to a splintering off of families such as Blackmore’s group.
© Agence France-Presse