James Oler is guilty of removing a child from Canada for a sexual purpose after he took a 15-year-old girl into the United States in 2004 to be married into a polygamous relationship within the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
On Friday in Cranbrook B.C. Supreme Court, Madam Justice Martha Devlin delivered her ruling on the case which was the subject of a retrial in April 2019 following Oler’s previous acquittal of the charge in 2017 and a subsequent appeal by the Crown.
“I am satisfied that the Crown has established beyond a reasonable doubt the essential elements of the offence,” Devlin told the court.
As per section 273.3(1)(b) and 153 of the Criminal Code of Canada, Devlin found Oler guilty of removing the underage girl from Canada (referenced as C.E.O. as her identity is protected under a publication ban), knowing she would be the subject of sexual conduct.
At the time of the offence, Oler was the bishop in Bountiful, B.C. an FLDS community that believes in the practice of plural marriage, while Warren Jeffs was the prophet of the FLDS. Jeffs is now serving a life sentence in Texas for two counts of child sex assault and remains the leader of the FLDS from prison.
The Crown accused Oler of facilitating the removal of the 15-year-old girl to Mesquite, Nevada to be married on June 25, 2004, to another FLDS man after receiving a phone call from Warren Jeffs on June 23, 2004.
“I called Jim Oler last night and told him to bring C.E.O. for her to get married,” said Jeffs in his priesthood record from June 24, 2004.
“At 1:23 pm on June 25, 2004, C.E.O was married ‘for Time and Eternity’ to James Leroy Johnson in Mesquite, Nevada. The ceremony was performed by Warren S. Jeffs and witnessed by James Oler and William Edson Jessop,” said Devlin, citing the list of 18 marriages performed by Jeffs on June 25, 2004, and the FLDS marriage record from the same day. “At the time C.E.O was 15 years old. This was a plural marriage.”
Devlin found that the Crown provided evidence that satisfied all essential elements of the offence. Devlin outlined those six essential elements in her ruling.
- The accused must do anything for the purpose of removing a person from Canada.
- The person to be removed must be 14 years of age or more but under the age of 18.
- The person to be removed must be ordinarily resident in Canada.
- The accused must know the person is 14 years of age or more but under the age of 18.
- The accused must know the person is ordinarily resident in Canada.
- The accused must intend that an act be committed outside Canada that would be an offence under section 153 (sexual exploitation) if it were committed in Canada.
The first element was the subject of Crown’s appeal in the first trial. The B.C. Court of Appeal concluded that it was not essential that the accused be present in Canada while doing “anything” for the purpose of removing a person from Canada, which was cited by Devlin in her decision on Monday. However, it was noted that there had to be proof of C.E.O’s presence in Canada to be affected by the “anything” that James Oler did to prove the offence.
Devlin ruled that the second, third, fourth, and fifth elements of the offence were all covered by C.E.O’s birth certificate as well as her school attendance records in Bountiful.
The bulk of Devlin’s ruling focused on whether evidence was established that C.E.O was in Canada at the relevant time. Exhausting several areas of doubt that she may have been in the United States when Oler got instruction from Warren Jeffs, Devlin ultimately made the ruling that C.E.O was in Canada and that Oler took immediate steps of action with their subsequent rendezvous south of the Porthill border crossing in the United States and the eventual marriage in Nevada on June 25, 2004.
“James Oler’s retrieval of C.E.O. to be brought to be married following Warren Jeffs’ directive could not have been affected anywhere else except while C.E.O. was in Canada.”
The final aspect of the offence was whether Oler foresaw C.E.O. would be subject to sexual conduct.
Devlin said in her ruling that the FLDS community is characterized by a “male-dominated hierarchy” and that women were raised to believe that, “the only route to eternal salvation was to participate in plural marriage, to submit to their Priesthood head and ‘multiply and replenish the earth’ in accordance with divine instruction.”
In Devlin’s ruling, C.E.O. fulfilled the purpose of plural marriage from the evidence of her child’s birth certificate from November 4, 2005, where C.E.O gave birth to a son in Hilldale, Utah at 17 years old.
Finishing her reasons, Devlin instructed Oler to stand in the Cranbrook courtroom.
“I find you guilty as charged,” said Devlin as Oler sat back down, quiet in his seat, similar to his demeanour throughout the previous two trials.
Oler will remain on his same release conditions, having to report to his parole officer in Athabasca until a pre-sentencing report is prepared. James Oler will appear back in Cranbrook B.C. Supreme Court on July 15, 2019, for his sentencing hearing, with the anticipation that Devlin will deliver Oler’s sentence on July 16, 2019.
The former FLDS bishop could face up to five years in prison after his finding of guilt on Monday.