Two Canadian polygamists with 29 wives and 160 children between them are sentenced to house arrest
Fundamentalist Mormons Winston Blackmore and James Oler were each facing possible prison terms of five years
Two leaders of a fundamentalist Mormon community were sentenced to house arrest on Tuesday in the first real test of Canada’s 130-year-old prohibition against having more than one wife.
Winston Blackmore, 60, and James Oler, 53, were convicted last year of polygamy after much legal wrangling and scrutiny of their lifestyles.
Justice Sheri Ann Donegan of the British Columbia Supreme Court gave Blackmore a six-month conditional sentence to be served under house arrest, while Oler received three months. Both also face 12 months of probation.
Blackmore was convicted of having 24 wives, and Oler five wives, with whom they fathered a total of more than 160 children.
Each man faced a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison.
There have been only two other convictions for polygamy in Canada, in 1899 and 1906.
This latest case took two decades to get to trial.
Three special prosecutors had been appointed during that period to consider bringing charges against Blackmore and Oler, but had backed down over concerns that the law prohibiting polygamy violated Canadians’ constitutional right to religious freedom.
Those fears were assuaged in 2011 when the British Columbia high court ruled that the inherent harms of polygamy justified setting limits on religious practices, clearing the way for charges to be laid in 2014 against Blackmore and Oler.
Blackmore had long defended his polygamy to reporters, in civil trials in the United States and under oath in Canadian federal tax court in 2012, when he struggled to name all of his wives, forgetting one.
He described a tight-knit group in his community in Bountiful, British Columbia, that grows, raises or hunts its own food, and runs a barter economy – trading labour for chickens with a neighbour, for example.
The community had been founded by one of his ancestors nearly 70 years ago and practised polygamy unhindered until federal police started an investigation in the late 1990s after receiving a complaint from a former member.
Bountiful, in a remote mountainous region near the US border, is affiliated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist religious sect that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church.
The Mormon Church disavowed polygamy in 1890, leading to a splintering off of families such as Blackmore’s group.
Additional reporting by Associated Press.