In a historic ruling Tuesday in Cranbrook B.C. Supreme Court, Winston Blackmore and James Oler were both sentenced to respective 6-month and 3-month conditional sentences with 12 months probation.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan delivered the ruling, the first of its kind in Canada in over 100 years.
Donegan said denunciation and deterrence were of “primary importance” in her reasons for sentencing but made note of several mitigating factors.
Before delivering the sentence, Donegan reiterated that she cannot sentence Blackmore and Oler for the potential harms of polygamy but simply the single count of polygamy that they were both convicted of.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler’s Sentence
Blackmore was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, to be served conditionally within the community, with 12 months probation while Oler was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment, also to be served conditionally within the community, and also with 12 months probation.
The conditions allow Blackmore and Oler to serve their sentences at home and are permitted to leave their residences for shopping or for necessary medical appointments, and in Blackmore’s case special exemption saw given for him to continue attending church services on Sunday from 10:00 am to 1:00 ppm. Needing to both report to their supervisor, Blackmore and Oler must carry their condition orders with them at all times even if they leave the premise.
With no past criminal record and now 61 years of age, Donegan said Blackmore has known nothing else besides the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) community he grew up in and its religious system. Donegan made the parties aware of the significant time it has taken to get to the sentencing stage and the prolonged uncertainty that polygamy could be prosecuted beyond one’s freedom to religion.
However, Donegan listed aggravating factors in determining Blackmore’s sentence. Those factors include the fact that Blackmore has been a religious leader in the Bountiful community since 1984, even past the divide in 2002, where half of the community continued to follow Blackmore as the spiritual leader, while the other half looked to James Oler as the leader of the Bountiful community, under the teachings of Warren Jeffs.
Marrying 24 women, nine of which were under 18 and four who were just 15 years of age at the time, Donegan said Blackmore consummated all of his marriages and has 149 children, leaving an almost impossible burden of responsibility to care for all his wives and children.
Factors in Oler’s sentence include that he’s now 54 years old and was also born into the FLDS community in Bountiful.
Holding the title of bishop and elder in Bountiful since 2002, Oler was excommunicated in 2012 by the FLDS for his involvement as an “interested party” in the polygamy reference case, which would go on to determine the admissibility of polygamy in the Criminal Code of Canada – to be prosecuted through an individual’s right to freedom of religion.
Now residing and working in Alberta, Donegan determined that Oler married five women 15 to 19 years of age between 1983 and 2004 and can serve his sentence outside of British Columbia pending approval from his supervisor.
Blackmore’s Lawyer Provides Thoughts
Blackmore’s defence lawyer Blair Suffredine thought his client would actually get a lesser sentence following the first sentencing hearing back in May.
“I was sort of expecting somewhere in the three-month range or potentially consideration of a discharge on perhaps a lengthy term,” Suffredine told media following Tuesday’s sentencing decision. “All-in-all I don’t think we’re really upset, we’re going to review it as people always do but I don’t know if things will change after that.”
Speaking on behalf of Winston Blackmore, Suffredine believes his client is happy with Tuesday’s result, avoiding time in prison, but still feeling the impacts of house arrest, limiting his ability to work and provide for his family.
“We’re going to need some time before he actually gives a reaction but generally speaking, I think he’s okay with the result.”
Spanning several years of litigation, Suffredine told media that Blackmore is finally starting to see the end of the process and completion to the decades-long investigation and various court proceedings.
“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s had 25 years of government coming after him for something he wasn’t sure was a crime and he felt that it was only because of his religious beliefs that he was doing it.”
BC Prosecution Service Reacts to Sentencing Decision
On behalf of the BC Prosecution Service, Alisia Adams was in Cranbrook Tuesday for the monumental ruling.
Speaking for Special Prosecutors Peter Wilson and Micah Rankin, Adams said they respect the decision made by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan.
“The Crown respects the court’s decision and the process that brought us to this stage,” Adams told members of the media following the proceedings. “It has been a long court process culminating in these sentences and the court was careful in her reasons, balancing the various principles of sentencing that the law requires.”
Adams didn’t divulge into the BC Prosecution Services’ viewpoints on the sentence itself, despite Wilson suggesting a 6-month prison sentence for Blackmore at the previous sentencing hearing and a 3-month prison sentence for Oler.
“The court concluded that a jail sentence was necessary for the polygamy offence which they were both convicted of, but concluded that the community would not be endangered by allowing them to serve that jail sentence in the community.”
Although Blackmore and Oler are under house arrest for their polygamy conviction, Adams believes the judgement is a deterrent for others in Bountiful and the general public across Canada.
“The sentencing and the conviction on which it was based send a message to members of the Bountiful community and other communities that practise polygamy that the law prohibiting polygamy is constitutionally valid and may result in jail sentences.”
Blackmore and Oler are both set to serve their sentences after reporting to the necessary authorities Tuesday afternoon.