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Marriage records, police statements are key in B.C. polygamy trial: prosecutor

Last Updated May 4, 2017 at 8:00 am MST

CRANBROOK, B.C. – The prosecution in the trial of two B.C. men accused of having multiple wives has wrapped up its case.

Winston Blackmore is the head of a religious group in Bountiful, a community in southeastern B.C. where residents follow the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, a faith that condones plural marriage.

Blackmore is standing trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Cranbrook, B.C., alongside James Oler, and each is charged with one court of polygamy.

Blackmore allegedly has 24 wives, while Oler is accused of marrying four women.

Crown attorney Peter Wilson summarized his evidence against the pair on Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of marriage records seized by law enforcement from a ranch in Texas that is owned by the FLDS church.

He said the records are important because testimony from experts on Mormon doctrine and church history shows that practitioners of the faith believe that what is sealed on Earth is sealed in Heaven and the afterlife.

The FLDS church broke away from the mainstream Mormon church at the turn of the 20th century.

“The evidence supports that record-keeping was of significant spiritual importance to the FLDS church,” Wilson said.

The trial has also heard from Blackmore’s first legal wife, Jane Blackmore, who said she sometimes attended ceremonies where Winston Blackmore married other women.

Jane Blackmore is also James Oler’s sister and testified that he had three wives, at least one of whom she had provided prenatal care for in her job as a midwife.

Other key pieces of evidence for the Crown include a video-recorded interview between an RCMP officer and Blackmore, and statements Oler made to the police.

The trial heard that both men told police officers they had multiple wives.

Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, asked for the polygamy charge to be stayed, arguing that evidence in the case was collected amid confusion over the legality of Canada’s laws on plural marriage.

The criminal trial comes more than 25 years after RCMP first began investigating allegations that residents of the isolated, religious community were practising plural or “celestial” marriage in the early 1990s.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan ruled Wednesday that the challenge can only be put forward once a verdict has been reached.

“The notice lacks clarity and is deficient in many respects,” Donegan said.

She also ruled in favour of an application to amend Oler’s indictment that adds a fifth woman to the polygamy charge based on evidence that emerged during the trial.

Suffredine is expected to deliver his closing arguments on Thursday. (Cranbrook Townsman)