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Lawyers ask judge to drop charges in Bountiful polygamy case

Case expected to test Canada's polygamy laws

Lawyers for two men who may use same sex-marriage as part of their defence for polygamy asked a BC Supreme Court to dismiss the case Jun 29.

Winston Blackmore, 52, is charged with marrying 20 women, and James Oler, 44, is accused of marrying two women.

Blackmore’s lawyer, Bruce Elwood, told a BC Supreme Court judge Monday the government went “prosecutor shopping” in order to lay charges against the men.

“This prosecution is being pursued without lawful authority,” Elwood told Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein.

Elwood told Stromberg-Stein that former provincial attorney general Wally Oppal rejected two independent special prosecutors’ recommendations that charges not be laid.

Charges were laid after a third prosecutor, Terry Robertson, agreed with Oppal. Elwood asked the judge to order the government fund his client’s defence if the charges are not dropped.

Oler and Blackmore were arrested in January.

They are rival religious leaders in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community of Bountiful in southeastern BC.

After his arrest, Blackmore claimed there are tens of thousands of polygamists across Canada. He maintains his religious sect is being singled out, disregarding his right to religious freedom.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Elwood said the case will be a test of Canada’s polygamy laws, and is expected to wind up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Blackmore’s former lawyer, Blair Suffredine, previously suggested the defence could invoke the right to same-sex marriage in Canada. Canada’s Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005.

Former BC Attorney General Wally Oppal, who was not re-elected in BC’s last provincial election, held that some legal experts believe polygamy charges won’t withstand a constitutional challenge in Canada over the issue of freedom of religion.

Oppal said at the time of the arrest that he believes polygamy is an offence in law, and that the case is about the exploitation of women.

And, he added, if someone says that’s contrary to their religion, then the issue is now up to the courts.

Blackmore and Oler were arrested at their Bountiful, BC commune Jan 7.

Blackmore was long known as “the Bishop of Bountiful.”

He runs an independent group of about 400 people in the hamlet only hundreds of metres from the US border.

He once ran the Canadian wing of the Utah-based FLDS but was ejected by Prophet Warren Jeffs.

Oler is the bishop of Bountiful’s FLDS community and is one of Jeffs’ followers, who was convicted by a Utah jury in 2007 on two counts of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice.

FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. The mainstream church renounced polygamy in 1890, but several fundamentalist groups left the main church in order to continue the practice.