The Vancouver Sun - January 18, 2011
Former Bountiful resident describes childhood marked by loneliness, lack of love
BY KEITH FRASER, POSTMEDIA NEWS
VANCOUVER — The brother of a prominent figure in a breakaway polygamist sect of fundamentalist Mormons broke down in tears Tuesday as he told a Vancouver court hearing into the validity of Canada's polygamy laws that his mother made him feel he was better off dead.
Truman Oler told the B.C. Supreme Court that a number of factors led to him deciding in his early 20s to leave the small fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C.
He said the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints community was in the process of splitting into two competing groups — with his religious leader brother James Oler on one side and rival leader Winston Blackmore on the other.
He said his brother had recently told him he was ready to be placed in marriage.
Attempts at reconciliation with his family have been difficult, especially with his mother, he told B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman.
"One time she told me a story, that one time she had a stillborn child, and it made me feel she wished I was that child," he said. "I just wish she didn't have to feel that way at all. If I talk to her, most of the time she treats me as if I am a stranger."
Oler, a 29-year-old father of two, said he didn't understand why his mother is so dismissive of him since he's led an exemplary life.
"I wish there was something I could do, so my mother could see I'm a good person. I don't hurt anyone. I don't breach any laws. I help my family."
Oler was asked by Karen Horsman, a lawyer for the B.C. attorney general's ministry, why he agreed to become involved in the trial.
"It would be so nice to one day be able to go down to the house that I grew up in and see my family and have them treat me like a son, a brother, a friend."
At times during his testimony Oler had to pause at length to compose himself, reaching for a Kleenex at one point to wipe away tears.
Oler, whose father had six wives and 47 children in all, spoke of a community in which the men are often away working for lengthy periods and seldom get a chance to see any of their many children.
"I have a brother who has three wives and I don't know how many kids. He goes out to work for months on end and never sees the kids."
He said the "most important thing in the world" to him is to spend time with his children and give his wife a little break in the day.
"Personally I can't see why they have so many children if they don't want to take care of them," he said of Bountiful.
Oler said boys in the community were told they had to marry a woman between the ages of 18 and 20.
"It was the Prophet, the God's decision," he said. "Winston had a lot to do with who married whom."
He said he spent very little one-on-one time with his mother because there were so many children around.
There was bickering among the various wives and boys were kept apart from girls and taught to believe the girls were like poisonous snakes, he said.
Oler said he dropped out of school after Grade 9, in accordance with a prevailing belief that it was better to put boys to work building posts and poles than have them get an education. Girls would often get placed in marriage after Grade 10, occasionally being pulled out of school to get married, never to return, he said.
Oler said he was put to work for Blackmore when he was 13 years old, earning $20 every second week though he was working full time.
Every man over the age of 18 had to tithe to the church $1,000 every other month, he told the court.
After the split in the community, Blackmore was demoted and thereafter started his own religious meetings, but whole families were divided as they were forced to choose sides, said Oler.
"There were family members on both sides, not talking to each other and not allowed to talk to each other."
The acrimony seemed contrary to their teachings that they were to love one another and their neighbour and spurred his decision to leave the community, he said.
The judge has been asked to decide whether the polygamy law is constitutional. The issue was referred to him after James Oler and Blackmore had their polygamy charges stayed in 2009.
James Oler was on the witness list initially, but last week the court was told he would not be testifying.
This article was found at:
The Vancouver Sun - January 18, 2011
Opinion: Former Bountiful resident gives tearful testimony on polygamy
‘They just don’t know what they’re doing and the harm they are doing and they do it all in the name of God,’ Oler says
by Daphne Bramham | Vancouver Sun Columnist
In the most emotional and compelling testimony so far in the constitutional reference case to determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law, Truman Oler spoke Tuesday of growing up in a family with six mothers and 47 children, his mother's heart-breaking disavowal of him after he left and about how little he knew and how frightened he was of the world outside the fundamentalist Mormon enclave. Photograph by: Brian Clarkson/file, Special to the Sun
VANCOUVER — Truman Oler wept for himself, his family and for all of the lost hopes, dreams and aspirations of the people he left behind in Bountiful, B.C. only a few years ago.
In the most emotional and compelling testimony so far in the constitutional reference case to determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law, the 29-year-old spoke Tuesday of growing up in a family with six mothers and 47 children, his mother's heart-breaking disavowal of him after he left and about how little he knew and how frightened he was of the world outside the fundamentalist Mormon enclave.
Yet it was when Oler talked about why he decided to testify that his halting words were most powerful.
From birth, he learned that there are only two choices: Follow the religion, obey its leaders and hope for salvation or be damned to hell.
Education wasn't valued. Religion was taught for up to two hours every day at the government-supported, independent school. Reading lessons were from religious books.
Even though his mother, Memory, is a teacher, she didn't encourage the youngest of her 15 children to finish high school. In fact, Oler doesn't recall even knowing that there was such a thing as college.
What he knew is that like the other boys, he'd most likely spend his life making fence posts for a company owned by Winston Blackmore, who was then bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
At school, he said the boys joked that all they needed to know was how to count to 175. That's the number of poles in a bundle.
In the summers when he was 13 and 14, Oler said he worked full-time in the post and pole mill and was paid just $20 every two weeks.
Oler left school at 16 after his father had died and Blackmore had refused to allow him to play on a minor hockey team. His wage rose to $100 cash every two weeks.
Oler – who is now a certified heavy-duty mechanic – told B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman that he doesn't understand why the FLDS places such a high value on having many children.
Men are often away working. But even when they are at home, Oler said fathers don't spend time with children. That's women's work.
“I can't think of nothing more important than spending time with my children. It's the most important thing in the world to me,” says the married father of two little boys.
Oler recounted how one of his brothers – who has three wives “and I don't know how many children.” – went home after months away working and picked up his baby. The baby cried. He didn't recognize his father.
“I don't know what I'd do if I went home, picked up my boy and if he didn't know who I was,” Oler paused, struggling to compose himself. “I just couldn't handle it.”
Despite all their hard work, men have little because of the monthly tithing – 10 per cent to the church – and special tithes of $1,000 around tax time every year that Blackmore called famine times.
Oler often didn't have enough for the special tithes. So his mother gave him the money, hoping to show that her son was “on the straight and narrow” and deserving of a wife assigned and possibly the three wives that the FLDS believe are necessary for a man to reach the highest realm of heaven.
(Another of Memory's sons, James Oler, became the FLDS bishop in the early 2000s after Blackmore was ex-communicated. Both James Oler and Blackmore were charged in 2008 with one count each of polygamy. Those charges were stayed and are the genesis of the constitutional reference case.)
By 19, Oler was done with the religion even though by his brother the bishop had talked to him about the prospect of having a wife assigned to him.
But Truman didn't want to be assigned a wife. He wanted to chose a partner. He also wanted his own house, his own car.
Yet, having been taught not to trust any outsiders, Oler was frightened to leave. Where would he go?
“One of the biggest factors in my leaving was my Grandma Lorna [who had left Bountiful years earlier], Oler said through tears. “Grandma Lorna told me no matter what I did I was always going to have a place to come back to. That meant so much to me because I just didn't know where I'd go if I left.”
Since leaving, Oler's only contact with his mother has been at his initiation. She's told him that “I basically would be better off if I was dead.”
Once, she told him about having had a stillborn baby.
“She told me in a way that made me fell that she wished I was that child,” he said quietly. “I wish she didn't have to feel that way about me. I thought she would be proud of me going back to school. But she treats me like I was a stranger. . . Because I left, she thinks it's the end of the world.”
Oler told Bauman that he'd agreed to testify because he hoped people in Bountiful would hear what he had to say and that some day he could return and people would once again “treat me like a son, a brother and a friend.”
People there are “very good-hearted people; some of the best people you could meet,” he said. “But they just don't know what they're doing and the harm they are doing and they do it all in the name of God. To take young boys' and young girls' ability to think away from them?”
Oler said Blackmore talks about how Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms protected them and their practise of polygamy. But that's the only right that Oler ever knew about until recently when he found a copy of it on the Internet.
“I read through the Charter,” he said. “And in teaching that one religion, they are taking away all of the other rights of the Charter.”
After a gruelling two hours of testimony, none of the lawyers arguing in favour of legalizing polygamy had any questions for Oler.
And, George Macintosh, the court-appointed amicus curiae, took the unusual step of thanking Oler for his testimony.
This article was found at:
Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case.
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