A religious fundamentalist convicted of removing a child from Canada in order to facilitate sexual offences will return to Cranbrook Supreme Court for a sentencing hearing next week.
James Marion Oler, who is associated with the polygamous community of Bountiful south of Creston, was found guilty of removing his daughter from Canada to marry a fundamentalist Mormon man in Nevada in 2004.
The marriage was ordered by Warren Jeffs, the leader and prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), who is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sex crimes against children.
Oler was found guilty by Justice Martha Devlin earlier in May. The maximum punishment is a five-year jail term, according to the Criminal Code of Canada.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, Crown will present its case for an appropriate sentence, while Oler will have the opportunity to do the same.
During the trial, Crown submitted religious records indicating that Jeffs had contacted Oler in a phone call on June 23, 2004, and told him to bring his 15-year-old daughter to the U.S. to be married. The records were seized in 2008 at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, after U.S. law enforcement executed a search warrant on the compound.
A trial witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified she travelled across the border on June 24, 2004, with her parents en route to the same Nevada location for her own FLDS marriage as ordered by Jeffs.
After crossing the Porthill border port south of Creston, the van she was travelling in soon pulled over to a highway rest area in northern Idaho and she went to relieve herself in the woods. When she came out of the trees, another van containing Oler and his daughter had arrived at the rest area.
Everybody, except for one, piled into the newly arrived van and continued on to Cedar City, UT, and eventually, to Mesquite, NV.
On June 25, 2004, there were 18 marriages noted in the FLDS records, which included separate ceremonies for the witness, Oler’s daughter, and Oler himself.
Further documentation submitted by the crown showed that Oler’s daughter gave birth just over a year after the marriage when she was 17 years old.
It was Oler’s second trial on the child removal charge; he was acquitted in the first trial proceedings in 2017 after the judge found reasonable doubt that Oler did anything to remove his daughter from Canada. However, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal and awarded a new trial after a legal challenge from the Crown.
In all circumstances, Oler was self represented, but didn’t participate in the legal process. However, an amicus curiae — a friend of the court appointed by a judge — was present to ensure fair trial proceedings.
The Crown’s case was led by Peter Wilson, a special prosecutor appointed by the provincial government in 2012.
Two co-accused in the child removal matter, Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore, were found guilty of the same offence and sentenced to 12 months and seven months jail terms, respectively.
Oler, a former FLDS bishop of Bountiful, was kicked out of the community following his involvement in polygamy proceedings a decade ago in Vancouver. He assumed the bishop role after Winston Blackmore, the bishop before his appointment, was excommunicated following a a power struggle against Jeffs for church leadership.
Though serving a life sentence, Jeffs remains the leader and prophet of the FLDS church.
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.