20 Dec 2010

Man from Bountiful says girls in Mormon polygamist communities "treated like poison snakes", taught to obey men and have many children

The Globe and Mail - Canada August 23, 2010

Girls treated like 'poison snakes’ in B.C. polygamous community, ex-member says
Man who lived in Bountiful makes claim in landmark constitutional case

by Wendy Stueck

Girls in the polygamous community of Bountiful “were to be treated like poison snakes” and taught that their role was to “have lots of children and obey the men,” says an affidavit filed in the B.C. Supreme Court in connection to a landmark polygamy case.

“The boys were taught not to interact with the girls and that the girls were to be treated like ‘poison snakes,’ ” says the affidavit, filed earlier this month by Truman Oler, 28, who grew up in Bountiful and left the community when he was about 21.

“We were not allowed to talk or play with [girls],” the document says. “That seems stupid to me when I think about it now because in my situation we were all related to each other – those girls were our nieces or cousins or sisters.

“I never remember being taught that being related to someone means that morally you should not think of that person as someone you would marry or have kids with.”

The affidavit is among a large amount of material, including videotaped interviews with people who grew up in polygamous communities in Canada and the U.S., filed in connection with a constitutional reference case expected to pit the right to religious freedom against arguments that polygamy harms women, children and society.

The affidavit contains allegations that have not been proven in court.

Lawyers involved in the case are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to discuss scheduling.

The B.C. government decided last October to ask the court to rule on whether the prohibition against polygamy in the Criminal Code is constitutional. In January, 2009, a government-appointed special prosecutor had recommended charges against Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler.

But the B.C. Supreme Court last September quashed those charges – one count of polygamy for each man – on procedural grounds, saying the province had gone “special prosecutor shopping” to find one that would press charges.

Allegations of polygamy in the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community of Bountiful date back to 1990. Two special prosecutors had advised against charges, reflecting concerns that such charges might not stand up to a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In his affidavit, Truman Oler says he is the 13th of 15 children and went to school in Bountiful from kindergarten through Grade 9. The boys were encouraged to leave school early to go to work. Mr. Oler went to work for J.R. Blackmore & Sons, a company run by Winston Blackmore, the affidavit states. Later, he went to work for a logging company in Sundre, Alta., where he regularly paid dues to the church.

“You had to pay 10 per cent of all your earnings just to keep your standing, and there was always pressure to pay more,” the affidavit says.

In the document, Mr. Oler says he began to question FLDS practices after a 2002 split between Mr. Blackmore and James Oler, Truman’s brother and Mr. Blackmore’s rival.

“I now think that the FLDS is like a cult and that it is damaging for children to grow up in that environment,” Truman Oler says in his affidavit. “The FLDS does not permit anyone free choice. You are told what to do.”

No one in the church “really spoke about the fact that polygamy was illegal, but we were told that we would be prosecuted for living like we did,” the affidavit states. “The church always justified polygamy by saying that it was no different from a man wanting to sleep with someone other than his wife.”

Government lawyers are expected to argue that the ban on polygamy is justified. A lawyer has been appointed to argue against the ban.

Mr. Blackmore has said the Charter gives him the right to live according to his religion.

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Winnipeg Free Press - Canada August 24, 2010

Polygamous way of life harmful, former Bountiful, B.C., residents allege

By Sunny Dhillon | The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Lorna Blackmore was 18 when she was forced to marry a man more than twice her age, despite the fact he already had a wife.

Truman Oler was just a boy when he was taught that girls were like "poison snakes," unfit to play with or even talk to.

Both Blackmore and Oler grew up in the polygamous southeastern British Columbia community of Bountiful and their experiences are chronicled in recently filed court documents.

The pair contend Bountiful condones a harmful way of life that gives men control over women and forces teenagers into marriage. Their affidavits are part of a B.C. Supreme Court case that will test Canada's law against polygamy.

Blackmore said in her affidavit she did not want to marry the 41-year-old man to whom she was promised.

She tried to argue with the church's prophet, but eventually gave in and wed. She had her first of five surviving children at 22.

Blackmore, now 67, said in the affidavit she was unhappy throughout the marriage, during which her husband married two more women.

Blackmore's marriage ended in 1980 and she now resides in the nearby town of Creston. Two of her children remain in Bountiful, along with 21 of her grandchildren.

"I do believe that polygamy has been a harmful way of life for me and many others in Bountiful, both men and women," she said in the affidavit.

Residents of Bountiful are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway group from the mainstream Mormon church. The Mormon church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Blackmore said she saw girls as young as 15 get married. She said that age seems to go up only when there is media or law enforcement attention on the community.

Oler, whose brother is one of Bountiful's leaders, left the community when he was about 21.

Now 28, Oler said in his affidavit he grew up with some unique rules.

"The boys were taught not to interact with the girls and that the girls were to be treated like 'poison snakes,'" he said in the affidavit. "We were not allowed to talk or play with them."

Oler went through a party phase after he left Bountiful, partly because he believed his decision to leave had reserved him a place in hell.

"The party phase seems pretty common for kids coming out of Bountiful, perhaps because of their newfound freedom," he said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out."

Oler is now married to someone who is not a member of the FLDS.

He said the move away from Bountiful has come with hardship that goes beyond the consequences of partying.

His mother rarely contacts him and if he goes to visit her, he's not allowed inside the home.

"I am tired of thinking about my childhood and teenage years," he said. "I consider it to have been a damaging way to have been raised."

The case was announced last year when the B.C. government asked the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whether Canada's polygamy laws violate religious protections guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That followed the provincial Crown's attempt to charge two Bountiful leaders with practising polygamy. A judge later quashed the charges because the province had appointed a second special prosecutor after the first recommended against laying charges.

Lawyers were in court Tuesday to sort out scheduling details for the case. They'll again appear before the judge early next month.

Several other affidavits have been filed in the case by those who lived in polygamous communities in the U.S., special interest groups, scholars and doctors, among others.

Brent Jeffs, nephew of FLDS head Warren Jeffs, has also sworn a video affidavit. Jeffs wrote a book titled "Lost Boy" that details the difficult experience of leaving the church.

Affidavits have also been filed in support of Bountiful and other communities that practice polygamy, by groups such as the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association.

The association advocates for Canadians who desire to have more than one partner.

Karen Ann Detillieux, a resident of Lorette, Man., swore her own affidavit in support of the association.

She's married with two children, and has a second relationship with another man who lives in her home with his two teenage children.

"We wish to testify that multiple conjugal relationships are a viable option in a free society, specifically when the power of decision- making and freedom of sexual expression are evenly distributed among the individuals involved," she said in the affidavit.

"Our conscious intent in building our family relationships has resulted in a stable, loving and supportive home environment."

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