Former B.C. polygamous leader guilty in taking child bride to United States

CRANBROOK, B.C. — A former leader in a fundamentalist Christian sect that practises polygamy in Bountiful, B.C., has been found guilty of removing an underage girl from Canada to be married in the United States.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Martha Devlin says it is reasonable to believe that James Oler knew the 15-year-old girl would be subject to sexual activity when he arranged her marriage to an older member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Devlin says Oler saw with substantial certainty that the girl would be expected to consummate the marriage immediately in order to ``fulfil her role in bringing forward children in line with the divine mandate.''

Oler was acquitted in 2017 by a judge who was not convinced he did anything within Canada's borders to arrange the girl's transfer, but the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the decision, saying that proof of wrongdoing in Canada was not necessary and ordered a new trial.

Oler was self-represented and did not call any witnesses or make a case in his defence during the retrial.

Lawyer Joe Doyle, who is serving as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, argued that a four-day gap in the girl's whereabouts is enough to dispute whether she was removed from Canada in 2004.

A special prosecutor said Oler should have known the girl would be subject to sexual activity following her marriage based on the nature of church doctrine and the disempowered role of women in the faith.

During the trial, Devlin admitted into evidence contested records that were seized from a headquarters of the religious group's headquarters.

The marriage and priesthood records kept by the church had been seized by U.S. law enforcement when a search warrant was executed at the Yearning for Zion ranch in 2008.

The court heard the priesthood records included audio dictations by the church's leader, Warren Jeffs.

One priesthood record describes a phone call that Jeffs made to Oler on June 23, 2004, ordering him to bring the child to the United States to be married. The court heard the girl's marriage was documented by the records kept by Jeffs.

Oler originally stood trial alongside Emily Blackmore and her husband Brandon Blackmore. Both were convicted of taking a 13-year-old girl across the border to marry a member of the same sect.

© 2019 The Canadian Press