CRANBROOK, British Columbia – A British Colombia Supreme Court judge imposed conditional sentences on two men who belong to a breakaway Mormon sect after convicting them of polygamy Tuesday, sparing them jail time.
Winston Blackmore found guilty of having 24 wives, while the court found James Oler had five wives. Blackmore's six-month conditional sentence to be served under house arrest allows him to go to work and deal with medical emergencies. Oler's term is three months of house arrest. Both face 12 months of probation
Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said that while both men are hard-working and otherwise law-abiding, a discharge by the court would not have been appropriate, given the gravity of their offenses, including some of the men's wives being as young as 15 when they were married.
"He's made it clear that no sentence will deter him from practicing his faith," the judge said of Blackmore, 61, who also has 149 children. "The concept of remorse is foreign to him in this context."
Donegan said Oler's crimes were motivated by his "sincerely held religious beliefs instilled in him at an early age."
Blackmore was also ordered to perform 150 hours of community service work, while Oler must do 75 hours.
Dozens of Blackmore's supporters were in court, and some cried when the sentence was read.
The men have been leaders in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon sect that believes in plural marriage. They have both been part of the small community of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia.
Blackmore's lawyer had asked the judge to consider all possible sentences in the case, including an absolute discharge. There are only two other convictions for polygamy in Canadian history, but because those cases took place in 1899 and 1906, Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson told the judge they didn't set a precedent in determining sentences for the men.
The maximum sentence for polygamy under the Criminal Code is five years in prison.