CBC News - The Canadian Press February 25, 2011
Child bride allegations prompt RCMP probe
Shocking allegations that eight underage girls from Bountiful, B.C., — including two who were 12 years old — were taken south of the border and married to American polygamists have prompted a renewed criminal investigation by the RCMP.
The marriages are outlined in documents from authorities in Texas, where a polygamous compound was raided in 2008.
The records, which surfaced this week in a B.C. court case examining this country's anti-polygamy law, detail marriages involving girls aged 12 to 18 between 2004 and 2006.
Three of the girls — two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old - were allegedly married to jailed polygamous leader Warren Jeffs, who faces trial in Texas on child sex assault and bigamy charges.
Six others were married to other American men, while a ninth, a 16-year-old American girl, was married to a man from Bountiful in 2004 and subsequently moved to Canada, where she gave birth to her first child at 17.
Cpl. Annie Linteau of the RCMP confirmed Friday that the province's attorney general alerted the Mounties about the new evidence last week.
"We initiated an investigation, and that's ongoing," said Linteau.
Linteau said she couldn't reveal any further details, such as what potential charges the Mounties could eventually consider.
The RCMP have investigated Bountiful several times during the past two decades, looking into allegations of polygamy, sexual abuse and human trafficking, but those investigations have never led to criminal trials or convictions.
The community's two leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, were each charged in 2009 with practising polygamy, but those charges were thrown out of court on technical grounds.
That prompted the provincial government to ask the B.C. Supreme Court whether Canada's prohibition on multiple marriage is constitutional. The hearings wrapped up earlier this month, with closing arguments scheduled for late next month, but the B.C. government was in court Friday asking for the new evidence to be admitted.
The records stem from the sensational 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch, a polygamous compound run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, near Eldorado. Residents of Bountiful are also followers of the FLDS, which, unlike the mainstream Mormon church, still practises polygamy.
The marriages at issue began in 2004, when the documents allege four girls were married in Colorado City, Ariz. They included a 13-year-old girl from Bountiful, who was married to 48-year-old Jeffs "for time and all eternity."
Two 17-year-old girls from Bountiful were also married the same day to other men. They were "personally delivered" by Bountiful bishop James Oler, the B.C. government alleges in its court submissions. Jeffs presided over the marriage ceremonies.
Also on that day, the 16-year-old girl from the United States was married to a man from Bountiful. The B.C. government documents allege Oler was present at the ceremony.
Not yet accepted by court
The following year, two 12-year-old girls from Bountiful were married to Jeffs in Texas, according to the documents. They were each taken to the Colorado City area by their parents, and then transported to Texas by the FLDS.
And on April 26, 2006, it is alleged that three more girls from Bountiful — two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old — were married in the United States.
"This is the first hard evidence, at least with respect to Bountiful girls, of marriages as young as 12," B.C. government lawyer Craig Jones told the court.
"It provides evidence of the commodification of and trafficking in girls that was predicting as a consequence of polygamy [by expert witnesses]."
Jones explained that his office only received the documents from Texas earlier this month, and asked Chief Justice Robert Bauman to allow them to be entered into the record.
Bauman said the documents can be tendered with the court, and he'll decide later whether they can be formally admitted.
The documents from Texas will remain sealed, even if they are admitted as evidence, because they relate to ongoing prosecutions and secret grand jury proceedings in the U.S.
During the 2008 raid, Texas authorities seized more than 400 children, most of whom were eventually returned to their families. Seven men were convicted of child sexual assault and abuse.
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The Vancouver Sun - Canada February 26, 2011
RCMP renews Bountiful investigation
By Tiffany Crawford, Vancouver Sun
The RCMP has launched a new criminal investigation into the polygamous community of Bountiful, near Creston, following disturbing new evidence that eight girls -some as young as 12 -were taken to the U.S. to marry older men.
Attorney General Barry Penner last week demanded police investigate the new information and in particular look at any evidence that might support criminal charges of child sexual exploitation or procurement of children for sex.
On Friday, Penner said the polygamy case was a top priority.
"Bountiful and polygamy are quite disturbing to me, and I strongly support the legislation [that makes polygamy a criminal code offence]," Penner said.
"I'm offended by any suggestion of what has been alleged to have taken place [12-year-olds becoming brides] is akin to marriage ... What this sounds like is a middle-aged man who wanted to have sex with children."
RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Annie Linteau said police are preparing to visit Bountiful as part of the probe.
"Obviously we can't discuss what we are doing in the context of the investigation, but eventually we will have to attend [Bountiful]," she said Friday.
The evidence came to light as part of the constitutional reference case before the B.C. Supreme Court that will determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law.
Linteau confirmed investigators received the evidence last week and have launched a criminal investigation.
"We're aware of the affidavits filed by the attorney-general's office," she said. "We initiated an investigation into those allegations and the investigation is ongoing."
Linteau could not say what charges the RCMP might consider.
This is the second time the RCMP has investigated the community; in 2006, Mounties probed two leaders of the Bountiful branch of the controversial Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).
However, the eventual charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler were thrown out in 2009.
A year earlier, Wendy Wiens, team leader for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, received a fax from Angie Voss, a child protective-services supervisor in Texas, outlining how a 13-year-old girl from Bountiful had been taken illegally to the United States by her parents and married to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs. At the time, Jeffs was 48 and a fugitive, running from charges related to having had sex with minors.
The fax was sent five months after Texas authorities had raided FLDS's Yearning for Zion ranch and taken into care close to 400 women and children.
Contacted in Creston Friday, Wiens said she would not comment on anything to do with the Bountiful case.
Christine Ash, a spokeswoman for the ministry, wouldn't comment either, saying the case was before the courts.
"Whenever the ministry is made aware of a possible child-protection issue, it will assess what that is and follow up accordingly, as to whether there is a protection concern; however, the ministry has no jurisdiction outside of B.C's borders," said Ash.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, expressed concern the Ministry of Children would not address the issue.
"The ministry cannot hide behind privacy at this point, when there is a constitutional reference on the issue," she said.
"The public needs to know that when there is an allegation that comes forward that a child may be subject to some form of sexual exploitation, that that is promptly and thoroughly investigated."
She was "deeply troubled" that over the last four years, despite an RCMP investigation and court challenges, the public remains in the dark about what might be happening with adolescent girls at Bountiful.
"We have a very important set of public values to address here, and it may engage the criminal law, it may engage child welfare, and it may require us to rethink a few things," Turpel-Lafond said. "I hope [the RCMP] has a team that will look at the issue completely, because I think at this rate there are some very significant concerns about the wellbeing of some children from British Columbia."
NDP MLA Dawn Black, an outspoken critic of polygamy, said she was upset that the government has not been able to protect the girls at Bountiful.
"It is totally unacceptable, if these allegations are correct, in a society like ours. This is [alleged] abuse of children."
About 800 to 1,000 people live in Bountiful, all members of the breakaway fundamentalist Mormon sect.
One of the leaders of Bountiful, B.C., Winston Blackmore, says he welcomes an investigation into allegations young girls from the polygamous community were taken to the United States to be wed.
Court documents allege eight girls between the ages of 12 and 18 were married off to American men between 2004 and 2006 – including three to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
Blackmore leads one of two divided factions within Bountiful, an isolated community in southeastern B.C.'s Creston Valley, not far from the U.S. border. Residents practise a form of fundamentalist Mormonism, which, unlike the mainstream church, still condones polygamy.
The shocking allegations surfaced at court hearings into Canada's polygamy laws and have prompted a renewed criminal investigation by the RCMP. They appear to involve girls from the other side of the divided commune, led by James Oler.
Community divided into factions
Blackmore says he has only heard details of the alleged marriages — and the latest criminal investigation to target the community — from news reports. His side of the community has very little contact with Oler's, which is thought to be more traditional and strict.
"I heard about it from the media, I had not heard about it," Blackmore told The Canadian Press during a weekend interview, sitting inside a newly constructed building that contains a community centre and a prayer space.
"If they're investigating the story we read about, I think they should look into it and see what's happening there. If that is a fact, I'm really disturbed about that myself."
The alleged marriages took place between 2004 and 2006 and involved a total of nine girls — eight from Bountiful, who were married to American men, and a 16-year-old girl from the U.S., who was married to man from Bountiful and subsequently moved there.
Records produced in court stem from the sensational 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch, a polygamous compound run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — also known as the FLDS — near Eldorado, Texas.
Bountiful has about 1,000 residents who follow the same branch of fundamentalist Mormonism. Oler's faction is officially linked to the FLDS, while Blackmore's congregation split from that church nearly a decade ago.
The court documents allege three girls — two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old — were taken to the United States by their parents and married to jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs, who was in his late 40s and early 50s when the marriages occurred, is currently in a Texas jail awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault and bigamy.
Five other girls from Bountiful, between the ages of 16 and 18, were married to other American men. Oler was present for some of those so-called celestial marriages, the documents say, and he "personally delivered" some of the girls to be wed.
New investigation launched
The province's attorney general forwarded details of the allegations to the RCMP, which announced last week it had launched a new criminal investigation.
The Mounties have targeted the community several times in the past, most recently when Blackmore and Oler were each charged with practising polygamy in 2009.
Those charges were thrown out in court after a judge ruled the attorney general of the day, Wally Oppal, was wrong to appoint a new special prosecutor after previous prosecutors had decided against laying charges.
Blackmore, who has been fiercely critical of Oppal, said the case cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I think it's more than a witch hunt, and I think I'm not the only person who feels like that," said Blackmore, dressed in work overalls and wearing a black baseball hat.
Blackmore was charged with having 19 wives, but the court heard he's been married to at least two dozen women and has fathered more than 130 children. He declined to confirm those numbers.
The court has heard testimony from experts, former residents of polygamous communities and current plural wives, who have debated the alleged harms of polygamy. Closing arguments will begin late next month.
Oler's group is participating in the case, although his lawyer didn't address the new allegations when they came up in court last Friday. The lawyer hasn't responded for a call seeking comment on the RCMP investigation.
Blackmore is boycotting the constitutional hearings because he was denied government funding.
"I haven't been following it. I only heard one report on it, and that was almost by mistake," said Blackmore.
"When they wanted us to participate in this reference, I was left with a choice: take care of family or interfere with this polygamy case. I have done what I feel like is the thing that any family person in Canada would have expected me to do, take care of my family."
Experts and former residents have told the court that polygamy is always harmful to women and children, inevitably leading to physical and sexual abuse, child brides, teen pregnancies and human trafficking between polygamous communities.
Blackmore categorically rejected those claims.
"I think that's not true, it's just not," he said. "You could make the same argument that monogamy is harmful to women and children, because of the statistics out there in relation to monogamous marriages."
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