Prosecutor wants jail time for two men in British Columbia polygamy case

CRANBROOK, B.C. — A special prosecutor is recommending two men who were leaders of a religious sect in British Columbia serve time in jail after being found guilty of polygamy.

Peter Wilson asked a British Columbia Supreme Court judge Tuesday for a sentence of between 90 days and six months in jail for Winston Blackmore, and a term of one month to 90 days for James Oler.

Wilson said the offences were motivated by “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“They are both, by all accounts, law-abiding, hard-working citizens, honest men,” he said.

But Wilson said the sentences must denounce their crimes and deter others.

He told Justice Sheri Ann Donegan that there are only two other convictions for polygamy in Canadian history, but because those cases took place in 1899 and 1906 they do not help in determining a sentence for Blackmore and Oler.

Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, asked the judge to consider all possible sentences in the case, including an absolute discharge.

He said the unusual circumstances of the case need to be taken into account, including decades of investigations and court proceedings, as well as Blackmore’s positive influence in the community and his religious beliefs.

“None of this was done with the intention of breaking the law. All of it was done through legitimate religious beliefs,” Suffredine argued.

The courtroom in Cranbrook was packed for the sentencing hearing, mostly with members of Blackmore’s family. There were not enough seats to accommodate everyone and a video link was set up so dozens of others could watch the hearing from another courtroom.

Donegan found Blackmore, 62, guilty last July of marrying two dozen women, while Oler, 54, was found to have married five women.

Both men have been leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which condones plural marriage. They live in the small community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C.

Suffredine asked the court to stay the charges against his client after the guilty verdicts, arguing the law against polygamy infringed on Blackmore’s charter rights to religious freedom.

Donegan dismissed the arguments in March, saying both Blackmore and Oler knew that entering into multiple marriages is illegal in Canada.

The maximum sentence for polygamy under the Criminal Code is five years in prison.

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