Two members of the polygamist community of Bountiful — including leader Winston Blackmore — were arrested Wednesday in what B.C.’s Attorney General says is the first time Canada’s polygamy law has been enforced.
Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44 have been charged with having multiple wives, which is against the law under section 293 of the Criminal Code.
“I think this situation is intolerable. I don’t think right-thinking Canadians want this situation to exist,” Attorney General Wally Oppal said.
“We’ve always felt that there has been exploitation (in Bountiful),” he added. “The question was whether, given our laws, we were in a position to proceed (with charges), and we determined we were.”
The RCMP has been investigating allegations of polygamy and exploitation in the small religious settlement near Creston for 20 years.
In 2005, Oppal appointed an independent special prosecutor, Terrence Robertson, to determine whether a prosecution was warranted.
He said it’s now up to the courts to decide whether the men’s rights to religious freedom will trump the laws prohibiting polygamy.
Blackmore is considered the leader of the community of 1,000 people, who are members of the Fundamental Church of Latter Day Saints.
It’s alleged he has 20 wives and Oler has two.
RCMP Sgt. Tim Shields said there’s no indication any of the wives are under the age of 18, but added many of them were likely married at around 15.
“Our goal (yesterday) was to minimize the impact to the community, especially regarding the children,” Shields said.
“We are trying to build bridges with the community, so … four plain-clothed officers stayed behind (after the arrests) to speak with them.”
Blackmore and Oler were released yesterday afternoon after making their first appearance in court, on the condition they surrender their passports and remain in the province.
If convicted, they could face a maximum of five years in prison.