WATCH ABOVE: A special prosecutor has approved criminal charges against Winston Blackmore, James Oler and two others. The allegations include polygamy and unlawful removal of kids from Canada with the intention of committing sexual crimes.
VANCOUVER – Polygamy charges have been approved against four people connected to the community of Bountiful in British Columbia.
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson Q.C. approved criminal charges against Winston Blackmore, James Oler (the two are known as the Bishops of Bountiful) and two others alleging polygamy and unlawful removal of children from Canada with the intention of committing sexual crimes.
Blackmore faces charges of polygamy.
Brandon James Blackmore, Emily Ruth Crossfield and Oler also each face a charge for the alleged unlawful removal of a child from Canada.
The Criminal Justice Branch of B.C. says those charges are based primarily on new information that came to light as a result of investigations in the U.S. The RCMP received a lot of documentation seized by investigative authorities in the U.S.
All the charges, which date from the early 1980s to the present, were sworn this morning in Cranbrook, B.C.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who is B.C.’s representative for Children and Youth, said she is pleased to see there were finally charges approved.
“It’s been virtually a decade that this has been underway, and the special prosecutor I know did a very thorough job and I’m glad to see that the charges were formally presented in the court in Cranbrook today,” she said.
WATCH: A report from Bountiful in the early 1990s:
Wilson, who is a senior lawyer in a private practice in Vancouver, was appointed as an independent Special Prosecutor on January 17, 2012.
“I’m encouraged that the Criminal Justice Branch, with the special prosecutor, have laid charges against the people in Bountiful,” said Wally Oppal, former B.C. Attorney General. “It’s something that we recommended when I was the Attorney General and this whole matter started in 2005. So I’m encouraged.”
“Mr. Blackmore and others are presumed to be innocent and that’s an important fact to remember. That these are allegations and the Crown, with special prosecutor Peter Wilson, have determined that they have sufficient evidence and we’ll have to wait and see,” added Oppal.
He said the polygamy charge is “quite separate” from the charges of “taking of a child for sexual purposes, removing the child for sexual purposes.”
In 2011 polygamy was ruled illegal in Canada.
“In 2009 the court was asked to consider whether the polygamy provision and ban violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Neil MacKenzie from the Criminal Justice Branch. “The court ultimately concluded that it was constitutional.”
Blackmore and his followers, which number about 700 people, practise a fundamentalist form of Mormonism. It is believed Blackmore has at least 23 wives and 130 children. In 2006 he was interviewed on Larry King Live on CNN and admitted that some of the women were under the age of 16 when he married them, but he did not say how many.
“The idea that girls, in particular pubescent, even prepubescent girls, would be pledged in a celestial marriage if you like to older men, either within British Columbia or transported across international boundaries to men elsewhere, that practise is obviously inherently very damaging to the lives of children,” said Turpel-Lafond. “Early sexualization of children and although there has been an argument that this was for a religious purpose, that didn’t stand up in the polygamy challenge. So this is important because while this is one instance, the whole issue of sexual exploitation of children, grooming them for a future in which they will not be able to choose their own relationships, they will not be able to freely and fully pursue their education and development. These are big issues in British Columbia.”
“This is long overdue that this hits a courtroom and gets fully examined.”
Bountiful has been the subject of numerous police investigations since the early 1990s amid allegations of polygamy, sexual abuse and human trafficking.
In 2009, Blackmore and Oler, were each charged with one count of practising polygamy. Those charges were later thrown out after a judge ruled the prosecutor handling the case was chosen improperly.
The polygamy charges that have now been approved against Blackmore and Oler are similar to the charges that the two men faced in 2009.
WATCH: 16×9 special investigation – Inside Bountiful:
WATCH: 16×9 correspondent Carolyn Jarvis joins Aaron McArthur to talk about the charges that have now been approved:
It is expected the accused will appear in court in October.
– With files from The Canadian Press
© Shaw Media, 2014