We’ve previously blogged about polygamous relationships in Canada, specifically the polygamous community of Bountiful B.C. Now, James Oler, one of the men at the centre of the heated legal battle around the community’s polygamous practices is back in the news.

Oler was accused of taking a 15-year old girl across the border for a sexual purpose (i.e. marriage). He was later acquitted after a B.C. judge concluded that the Crown (i.e. prosecution) had failed to establish that Oler had arranged the transfer of the girl from Canada to the U.S. so that she could marry a member of the polygamous community.

CBC reports that a special prosecutor has urged the B.C. Court of Appeal to overturn Oler’s acquittal.

The Original Acquittal

The original trial judge acquitted Oler because he had not been convinced that Oler had done anything in Canada to arrange the girl’s transfer. For instance, there was no evidence that established where Oler had been when he received the phone call from Jeffs and there was no official record of either Oler or the girl crossing the border.

Arguments in Favour of Overturning the Acquittal

Last week, a Crown prosecutor argued that proof that Oler was in Canada when he broke the law was not necessary. The law prohibiting the removal of children from Canada for a sexual purpose is intended to protect young people who are transported to another country and then subjected to something that would be a crime under Canadian law. As such, this law would apply whether or not Oler’s misconduct took place in Canada or once he was already in the U.S.

In addition, there was direct evidence to establish the girl’s transport to the U.S., namely:

  • At the time of the girl’s transport to the U.S., Oler was the presiding elder and the bishop in Bountiful;
  • Warren Jeffs, an alleged prophet and the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the U.S. (an offshoot sect of Mormonism which believes in plural marriage) called Oler in 2004 and asked him to bring the girl to the U.S. to be married;
  • Oler complied with Jeffs’ demand, since Oler (like other members of the sect) believe that Jeffs has a “direct connection to God” since Jeffs is a prophet in their eyes;
  • A second teenager had testified at Oler’s earlier trial that when she was 16 she and two adults crossed the B.C. border into Idaho in a van the day after Jeffs called Oler;
  • The trio stopped at a rest stop off the highway where a second van containing Oler and the 15-year old girl that had been requested for marriage pulled into the rest stop;
  • The trio from the first van entered into this second van and continued driving;
  • Marriage records show that the 15-year old girl then married a 24-year old man, with Jeffs performing the marriage and Oler as witness.

The Crown is asking the court to either convict Oler or order a new trial.

Oler’s Position

Oler did not have a lawyer present at the proceedings, but an impartial advisor had been appointed to provide some balance. The advisor contested the Crown’s interpretation of the Criminal Code, noting that the section at issue specifically applies to individuals who “remove” children from Canada, and that Oler could not have removed the girl from the country as the girl was “already out of the country” when Oler received Jeffs’ order to bring him the girl.

The panel of judges reserved their decision.

We will continue to follow developments in this ongoing legal battle as they become available and will provide more information when it is forthcoming. In the meantime,  if you have questions about Canada’s marriage laws, or any other family law related matter, contact Windsor family lawyer Jason P. Howie at 519-800-1039 or contact us online.  Jason has been a fixture of the family law community of Windsor and Essex County for over 25 years, and can offer guidance to help you address your most challenging legal issues.