A special prosecutor is recommending up to two years in prison for a former polygamous leader in Bountiful, B.C., convicted of removing a child from Canada to marry a member of his fundamentalist sect in the United States.
Peter Wilson said that, as an ex-bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, James Oler is culpable for facilitating the directives of church leader and prophet Warren Jeffs, who ordered him to bring the underage child to the U.S. to be married in 2004.
Mr. Wilson said aggravating sentencing factors against Mr. Oler included the girl’s age at the time, his position of trust and his position as a bishop and religious authority in the community.
“He occupied the highest priesthood office in the community of Bountiful because he was the bishop and that office made him directly answerable to Warren Jeffs,” said Mr. Wilson, in front of Justice Martha Devlin in B.C. Supreme Court in Cranbrook.
During Mr. Oler’s trial, the court heard that church records seized by U.S. law enforcement indicated Mr. Jeffs called Mr. Oler on June 23, 2004, and ordered him to bring the 15-year-old girl to the United States to be married.
A trial witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, was also named by Mr. Jeffs in the directive to come to the U.S. and be married as a child bride.
The witness testified she travelled with two adults to the U.S. on June 24, 2004, crossing into Idaho at the Porthill crossing south of Creston and pulling into a rest area shortly after. She went into the woods to relieve herself, and when she returned, another van containing Mr. Oler and the 15-year-old girl had arrived.
All but one piled into the newly arrived van and headed to Cedar City, Utah, and later to Mesquite, Nev.
Church records indicate 18 marriages took place on June 25, as the witness, the 15-year-old girl and Mr. Oler himself were all married in separate ceremonies.
Mr. Wilson suggested that the judge could exercise her discretion to consider Mr. Oler’s conduct in the removal of the trial witness even though she wasn’t included in his indictment.
“It’s my submission that no unfairness to Mr. Oler will result in the event you choose to exercise your discretion to consider his role in the removal of [the witness] from Canada,” Mr. Wilson argued.
However, Justice Devlin questioned whether she could be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Oler was guilty of all the same elements of the child-removal offence involving the trial witness, given that Mr. Oler may not have known she was under 16 at the time.
Mr. Oler does not have a lawyer. Joe Doyle, who is serving as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, suggested a sentencing range between six to 18 months in prison, drawing parallels to an earlier ruling against Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore.
They were convicted and sentenced for the same child-removal charge after being ordered to bring a 13-year-old girl to marry Mr. Jeffs. Mr. Blackmore was sentenced to 12 months in jail, while Ms. Blackmore was given a seven-month jail term.
Mr. Oler, however, was acquitted because the presiding judge was unable to determine, based on the trial evidence, whether he did anything within Canada’s borders to arrange the girl’s transfer to the U.S. The acquittal was successfully challenged by the Crown and a new trial was ordered by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Justice Devlin found Mr. Oler guilty of the child-removal charge in a new trial that was held in Cranbrook earlier this year.
The court has set Aug. 29 as a tentative date for sentencing.
The court heard that Mr. Oler is living in isolation in Alberta after being stripped of his bishop’s appointment and excommunicated from the Bountiful community nearly a decade ago for participating in legal proceedings examining the constitutionality of Canada’s polygamy laws.
He was also charged and convicted of polygamy alongside Bountiful leader Winston Blackmore and sentenced to three months house arrest in 2018.