In a ground-breaking decision Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Donegan dismissed all general and constitutional challenges made by guilty polygamists Winston Blackmore and James Oler.
Both found guilty of practising polygamy in July 2017 by Donegan, Blackmore is now convicted of having 24 wives, while Oler is also convicted of having 5 wives.
"I didn't know it was illegal, we got a definite letter from the Attorney General at the time which said that our conduct was protected under the Charter," Winston Blackmore told media following the proceedings. "I don't encourage anybody to practice polygamy but I know I that don't discourage anyone that has a religious commitment, no matter what it is, throughout this country."
Entering court Friday, Blackmore's legal counsel sought a stay of proceedings for alleged abuse of process by the Attorney General of British Columbia in the mid-2000s, and constitutional protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Oler did not specifically raise any arguments as he has self-represented throughout the proceedings but amicus to the court, Joe Doyle did raise general challenges in regards to abuse of process.
Specific arguments included a 1992 press release issued by the Attorney General, which Blackmore argued was clear that the province didn't see polygamy as illegal and instead would allow the practice. Justice Donegan ruled against that notion.
"The Press Release was not an announcement that Mr. Blackmore's... conduct, or polygamy in general, was lawful," wrote Donegan on page 33 of the 95-page ruling.
All other arguments alleging abuse of process were also dismissed by Donegan, saying the decision by the court in 2009 about the subsequent appointment of special prosecutors was deemed inappropriate, but the appointment of Peter Wilson in 2016 was lawful due to new evidence in the case.
"Given the new legal and evidentiary landscape, the Attorney General was free to appoint another special prosecutor to conduct a charge assessment," wrote Donegan. "There is no legitimate suggestion that Mr. Wilson's appointment was motivated by the Attorney General's desire to find a prosecutor who would reach a decision she preferred."
After the proceedings, Blackmore said the entire case up to this point has been trying on his family, but that they don't dispute the decision of the court, and the ruling made by Donegan Friday, vowing to now share his side of the story with the world ahead of sentencing.
"27, going on 28 years, it's exhausting, it certainly is a test of our faith," said Blackmore. "I'm going to start telling my story online right away, I feel like I'm unshackled from that and I'm going to start doing that. The girls are going to be the ones that are going to collect it and post it up and we're going to do that as quickly as we can and I'm going to start from the very beginning of my life."
Blackmore said he doesn't know at this time if he will now appeal his conviction of polygamy.
As the proceedings stand after Friday's decision, pre-sentencing reports are being prepared for both Blackmore and Oler as they will be back in Cranbrook Tuesday, May 15th for their sentencing hearing.
"The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to foster respect for law and maintain a just, peaceful, and safe society," said Dan McLaughlin, Communications Counsel for the BC Prosecution Service. "They will seek to craft a sentence which acts as a deterrence for others, which denounces the unlawful conduct, which seeks to assist in rehabilitation, and a sentence which promotes a sense of responsibility in the offender and acknowledges the harm done to victims and the community."
This is the first such conviction of polygamy in Candian history.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, Blackmore and Oler could now face a maximum of five years in prison.
- Bradley Jones
Audio: Dan McLaughlin, BC Prosecution Service Communications Counsel (Full interview)
Audio: Winston Blackmore, guilty of polygamy (Full uncut interview)