A Canadian court has found two former leaders of a breakaway religious sect guilty of practicing polygamy, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp said, after a decades-long attempt to arraign members of the group.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler, former bishops of the breakaway Mormon community of Bountiful in south-eastern British Columbia, were found guilty by a British Columbia supreme court judge of one count of polygamy each.
Blackmore, 61, was accused of practicing “a form of polygamy” or “a kind of conjugal union” with 24 women between 1990 and 2014, according to court documents. Media have reported that he fathered at least 146 children.
Oler, 53, faced the same charge involving five women between 1993 and 2009. It is not known how many children Oler has fathered.
Under Canada’s century-old anti-polygamy law, the British Columbia government had been weighing prosecution since the early 1990s against members of the isolated community of 1,500 residents.
Despite multiple police investigations into claims of abuse in the community, it had declined to pursue polygamy charges because of concerns that doing so would violate constitutional freedoms of religion, which Blackmore’s defense counsel had argued.
In 2011, the British Columbia supreme court affirmed that laws banning polygamy were constitutional and did not violate religious freedoms.
The mainstream Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy in 1890.