Canadian sect leaders face polygamy charges

Wed Jan 7, 2009 5:19pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian authorities filed polygamy charges on Wednesday against two leaders of a religious group that has openly practiced plural marriages in the province of British Columbia for years and has links to U.S. polygamist communities.

Prosecutors believe it is the first time that polygamy charges have been filed in Canada, but the case hinges on an anti-polygamy law that some legal experts have warned may violate rights to religious freedom.

British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal, a former judge, said he believes the law is constitutional because it because it protects women from sexual exploitation.

"I don't believe right-minded Canadians want (polygamy) to exist," Oppal said.

Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) were arrested without incident in the southeastern British Columbia community that the group calls "Bountiful".

Blackmore is married to 20 women, while Oler has two wives, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Neither man was available for comment.

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.   Continued...

<p>Winston Blackmore (R), a leader in a British Columbia polygamist community, takes notes as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtless (L) talks to media in Vancouver, British Columbia December 8, 2005. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>