Two Canadian Mormon Men Under House Arrest for Polygamy

In Cranbrook, British Columbia, two men took many wives, some as young as 15.

The two men will not serve any time in jail based on the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court judge. They were given conditional sentences. The two men were Winston Blackmore, 61, and James Oler, 54. They are part of a breakaway Mormon sect.

These became of the first Canadian cases of polygamous arrest in over a century. The judge was Justice Sheri Ann Donegan. She sentenced the Blackmore to 6 months and Oler to 3 months. The men are serving house arrest with the exceptions for work and other necessary errands and medical emergencies.

Blackmore will serve 150 hours in community service work. Oler will do 75 hours.

Donegan stated, “Determining a proportionate sentence is a delicate task … Sentences that are too lenient and sentences that are too harsh can undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.”

Blackmore’s relatives cried and embraced with the announced sentence.

“The court heard Blackmore married his first wife, ex-Bountiful member Jane Blackmore, in 1975 and went on to marry 24 more women in so-called celestial marriages. Nine wives were under the age of 18, and four were 15 at the time they were married, Donegan noted in her decision,” the article reported.

Oler had five wives, one as young as 15 with another turning 17 at the time of the marriages to Oler. Blackmore and Oler were raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is a tradition of some sects of the Mormon church to practice “plural marriage.” Men marry lots of women.

There was a schism in 2002, which led to the rival factions growing into what is known as the community of Bountiful in the south east of British Columbia.

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Oler had five wives, Donegan said. One was 15, and another had just turned 17 at the time of their marriages. Oler got excommunicated from the church in 2012. He lives in Alberta now. Blackmore lives in the original community.

The judge described both men as hard working and law abiding citizens. But they practice polygamy due to their deeply held religious convictions.
Donegan stated, “He’s made it clear that no sentence will deter him from practising his faith. … The concept of remorse is foreign to him in this context because … he cannot feel remorseful for his family.”

One reference case confirmed the illegality of polygamy in Canada in 2011 but Blackmore continued to practice it. Blackmore failed to heed the fair notice in the reference case. Donegan has no doubt that Blackmore was practising polygamy based on fundamentalist beliefs inculcated at a very, very young age. Therefore, Blackmore feels no remorse for any of the victims or for any harm caused via his offense.

Donegan stated, “He does not feel any remorse for his offense because he feels he did not know any other way of life and sees no harm or victims in his offense.”

The maximum prison sentence for polygamy is five years based on the Criminal Code. Only two other convictions have occurred in the history of Canadian law. Those happened in 1899 and 1906. They did not set a precedent.

Blair Suffredine, the lawyer for Blackmore, said, “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel… He’s had 25 years of government coming after him for something he wasn’t sure was a crime and he felt it was only because of his religious beliefs that he was doing it.”

This sentence, hopefully, sends a moderate to strong message to the members of the bountiful British Columbia community about practicing polygamy and how this may result in jail sentences.

Photo Credits: Vancouver Sun and Montreal Gazette

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