Defence lawyer argues accused B.C. polygamist’s fair trial rights violated

Defence wants charge stayed in B.C. polygamy trial

CRANBROOK, B.C. — A lawyer whose client is on trial for polygamy in British Columbia is arguing that evidence in the case was collected amid confusion over the legality of Canada’s laws on plural marriage.

Blair Suffredine is seeking a stay of a polygamy charge against his client, Winston Blackmore, in B.C. Supreme Court in Cranbrook.

Blackmore, the head of a religious community Bountiful in the southeastern B.C., is accused of marrying 24 women.

Suffredine said in court on Monday that evidence against Blackmore was collected between 1990 and 2011, a period when it was not clear whether laws prohibiting polygamy were unconstitutional.

He is also arguing that Blackmore’s right to a fair trial was violated through an abuse of process.

In 2007, special prosecutor Richard Peck declined to lay charges against Blackmore and James Oler, who also served as a bishop in the fundamentalist community.

Peck instead recommended a constitutional reference case be brought forward to test the criminality of polygamy.

In 2011, the law was upheld in a ruling that determined it didn’t violate religious freedoms guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Following years of legal wrangling, a criminal trial for Blackmore and Oler began last month, more than 25 years after RCMP first began investigating allegations that residents of the isolated, religious community were practising plural or “celestial” marriage in the early 1990s.

Blackmore and Oler are each charged with one count of polygamy and the case is being heard by a judge alone.  

Oler is accused of having four wives.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan ruled Monday to allow into evidence statements Oler made to police about his wives.

Investigators met with Oler in October 2005 to get his permission to interview the women during an investigation into alleged sexual exploitation.

Court has heard that Oler admitted to having three wives and said he would set up a time for police to conduct interviews. Since it was a general inquiry and not a formal police interview, it was not recorded.

Donegan ruled that Oler’s knew he was under police scrutiny, but that the statements about his wives were made voluntarily outside of the scope of the sexual exploitation investigation.

Crown counsel in the case has also applied to add a fifth woman to Oler’s polygamy charge, based on his statements to police and marriage records. (Cranbrook Townsman)

Trevor Crawley, Cranbrook Townsman, The Canadian Press

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