A former leader of a polygamous community south of Creston has been found guilty of removing a child from Canada knowing she would be subject to sexual offences, according to the presiding judge.
James Oler was found guilty of taking a 15-year-old girl from Bountiful, a fundamentalist Mormon community in the Kootenays, to the U.S. in order to marry an American fundamentalist Mormon in 2004.
Justice Martha Devlin agreed with Crown arguments that Oler should have known the marriage would facilitate sexual activity based on the religious teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which demand obedience to the priesthood head — the father or husband — as a representative of God’s authority.
Justice Devlin ruled that Oler would have known that the marriage transferred the priesthood head authority to the husband.
“As a result, Mr. Oler foresaw with certainty, or substantial certainty, that as an FLDS wife to whom obedience to her Priesthood head husband was the sine qua non of her FLDS identity, [she] would be dependent on her husband for every aspect of her life just as she had been on James Oler as her father.”
Crown’s evidence included marriage and priesthood records seized at an FLDS compound in Texas a decade ago, testimony from current and former members of the FLDS community and religious experts.
According to the records seized by Texas law enforcement in 2008, Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader and prophet, had called Oler on June 23, 2004 and ordered him to bring the 15-year-old girl to the United States to be married. A marriage record confirmed a ceremony occurred two days later that was performed by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs in Mesquite, NV.
It was one of 18 ceremonies that day, one of which included a polygamous marriage between Oler himself and another woman.
While there wasn’t any direct evidence of Oler crossing the Canada-U.S. border with his daughter, a trial witness testified she travelled from Bountiful over to northern Idaho in the early morning hours of June 24, 2004, and met up with Oler and his daughter.
The witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said she crossed from Canada into the United States with her parents in a van, and stopped at a highway pullout shortly afterwards. After going into the woods to relieve herself, she came back out and saw another van had arrived which contained Oler and his daughter
They all piled into the newly-arrived van, except for one person, and continued to Cedar City, UT.
“While not a private area, it was certainly situated some distance from the highway,” said Devlin. “I find that the rendezvous of these two vans at this isolated spot was not a coincidence. Indeed, I find that it was the result of Mr. Oler’s implementation of Warren Jeff’s direction which Mr. Oler received the night before.”
Further testimony from another witness placed Oler’s daughter in Bountiful a week before the wedding at a church function, while school records also confirmed her attendance up until February 2004.
Former members of the FLDS testified about their experiences growing up in the faith, which involved consistent religious instruction requiring strict obedience to the priesthood head. Women were taught that their role was to submit to their priesthood heads, be married into polygamous relationships and bear children.
Documentation submitted by Crown showed that Oler’s daughter gave birth just over a year after the wedding when she was 17 years old.
The case was tried by Peter Wilson, a special prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General in 2012, and his colleague Micah Rankin. Joe Doyle served as an amicus curiae, a friend of the court, to ensure a fair trial.
Oler was self-represented but didn’t participate in the proceedings. He is expected to be sentenced July 15.
He was previously acquitted in 2017 of the same charge after the presiding judge was unable to determine if Oler did anything within Canada to remove the underage girl. However, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal on appeal from the Crown, and awarded a new trial.
Two co-accused, Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore, were found guilty of the same charge three years ago and sentenced to 12 months and seven months behind bars, respectively.
Oler was kicked out of the community following his involvement in polygamy proceedings a decade ago in Vancouver. He was formerly the bishop of Bountiful, assuming the role after Winston Blackmore, the former bishop, was excommunicated following a a power struggle against Jeffs for church leadership.
Jeffs remains the leader of the FLDS, however, he is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison after being arrested and convicted of sex assault against a child.
Oler was also charged and found guilty of polygamy alongside Blackmore in 2017 after nearly three decades of police investigations and litigation involving members of the Bountiful community. Following the polygamy conviction, Oler was sentenced to three months house arrest.