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Two Canadian polygamists found guilty

July 25, 2017

A Canadian court has convicted two former leaders of a breakaway Mormon sect of polygamy. The ruling could renew a court battle over the constitutionality of the country's law on multi-marriages.

Three wedding rings lying next to each other
Image: picture alliance/Lehtikuva/M. Stig

A judge at the British Columbia Supreme Court on Monday convicted two men, one with 25 wives and one with five, of polygamy, in a ruling that upholds Canada's more than a century-old law forbidding multiple marriages.

Winston Blackmore, who has 146 children from his 25 marriages, and James Oler, both former bishops of a Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) community in a remote part of the Canadian province, could face up to five years in jail.

The convictions come after a decades-long legal battle complicated by concerns that the law prohibiting polygamy went against the constitutional right to religious freedom.

Despite an ongoing investigation against them, charges were not filed against Blackmore, 60, and Oler, 53, until three years after the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the inherent harm caused by polygamy justified the restriction of religious freedom.

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Legal challenge likely

The main defendant, Blackmore, has never denied his polygamy, saying it is an important part of his religion. His lawyer has already said that Blackmore would challenge the constitutionality of Canada's polygamy law if found guilty.

Both men are senior figures in the FLDS, which broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, in the early 20th century. A major factor in the split was the renunciation of polygamy by the mainstream Mormon church in the late 19th century.

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Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLD
Warren Jeffs was on the FBI's '"most-wanted" listImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/T.Nelson

Blackmore and Oler both live in the FLDS community of Bountiful, which was founded nearly 60 years ago in a mountainous area near the US border. The community is largely self-sufficient for food and also runs a barter economy.

The main base for the sect is a small community on the Utah-Arizona border in the United States that is still run by the "prophet" and leader of the group, Warren Jeffs, from the Texas prison where he is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

'My grandfather had four wives, I have two'

tj/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP)