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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A Canadian prosecutor has approved criminal charges against four members of an isolated polygamous community in British Columbia nearly three years after the province's Supreme Court upheld a ban on plural marriages.
British Columbia's Ministry of Justice said on Wednesday that Winston Kaye Blackmore and James Marion Oler, rival leaders in the small religious community of Bountiful, some 735 kms (450 miles) east of Vancouver, both face charges of polygamy.
Oler also faces a separate charge related to the alleged unlawful removal of a child from Canada. Two other community members face similar charges.
The charges are just the latest in a decades-long effort by the province and Canadian police to prosecute members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) on polygamy-related charges.
The FLDS, a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon Church, also has communities in the United States, where its leader and self-proclaimed prophet, Warren Jeffs, has been convicted of forcing underage women to marry older men.
Blackmore is accused of having 24 wives, while Oler is accused of having four wives, according to court documents released on Wednesday.
The documents also outlined charges against Oler around the removal of a child under the age of 16 from Canada with the intention that an act be committed outside Canada that would go against sections of the Criminal Code related to sexual interference and sexual touching.
That charge is related to an investigation in the United States.
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson declined to approve further charges, including alleged offenses of sexual exploitation, according to the Ministry of Justice statement.
Efforts to reach those charged were unsuccessful.
Blackmore and Oler, rivals within the community of about 700 people for several years, both faced polygamy charges in 2008, which were later thrown out by a provincial court over questions on the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy laws.
In 2011, a British Columbia court upheld Canada's polygamy ban and the provincial government appointed Wilson to oversee a new investigation into the Bountiful community.
The mainstream Mormon church, which once supported polygamy but now denounces it and the FLDS fundamentalists, filed a lawsuit against the Bountiful sect in June for using its trademarked name.
Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Matt Driskill