Woman testifies about life in British Columbia polygamist community

CRANBROOK, B.C. — A former member of a fundamentalist sect testified Friday about growing up in a British Columbia community that practises polygamy at the trial of man charged with the alleged removal of a girl from Canada in 2004 to marry a man in the United States.

The Crown witness told B.C. Supreme Court she left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bountiful seven years ago.

“The only honourable way to leave the FLDS is to die and I’ve known that since I was a baby,” she testified at the trial by judge alone.

“I knew there was no one in the world who could help me,” she said. “There wasn’t a lawyer, there wasn’t a policeman, there was no one that could help me leave Bountiful and still be able to have my children.”

James Oler is charged with removing a 15-year-old girl from Canada to marry a member of the fundamentalist sect in the U.S.

He was acquitted in 2017 by a judge who was not convinced Oler did anything within Canada’s borders to arrange the 15-year-old girl’s transfer to the U.S. But the Appeal Court agreed with the Crown that proof of wrongdoing in Canada was not necessary and ordered a new trial.

The Crown witness said she was taught by religious leaders to fully obey the family priesthood head — her father as a girl, and her husband after she was married.

Women were taught that bearing children and living in plural marriages was essential to achieving the highest level of celestial glory, she said. Disobedience could put eternal salvation at risk and lead to excommunication from the community, she added.

The role of women and obedience in the church is a key element of the Crown’s case.

In his opening statement, special prosecutor Peter Wilson alleged that Oler should have reasonably expected the girl would be placed in a relationship of dependency that would facilitate sex offences.

Court has heard the marriage was documented by priesthood records kept by Warren Jeffs, the church’s president and prophet. The records were seized after U.S. law enforcement raided the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas a decade ago.

One priesthood record describes a phone call that Jeffs made to Oler, allegedly asking him to bring the girl to the United States to be married.

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