Canada prosecutors amend charges vs. FLDS leader

The Associated Press/April 14, 2009

Creston, British Columbia » One of two Canadian men charged with polygamy had his charges amended to add another wife to the list of women he has married, said British Columbia's Ministry of Attorney General.

Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, are each accused of being married to more than one woman at a time. Another woman has been added to Oler's indictment after a review by special prosecutor Terry Robertson.

"It's not a new charge," said provincial Ministry of Attorney General spokeswoman Linda Mueller. "We're just adding another party."

The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal said. Friday.

The case is the first to test Canada's polygamy laws. Blackmore maintains the case is about religious persecution. His lawyer, Blair Suffredine, has said the defense could invoke the right to same-sex marriage in Canada.

Canada's Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005. Blackmore and Oler lead rival polygamous factions in Bountiful, a town in southeastern British Columbia.

Blackmore is charged with marrying 19 women and Oler is now accused of marrying three women. Blackmore openly acknowledges having numerous wives and dozens of children but has said his community abhors sexual abuse of children.

Blackmore, who has an independent sect of about 400 followers in Bountiful, once ran the Canadian arm of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but he was ejected in 2003 by that group's leader, Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is in jail awaiting trial in Arizona on four counts of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor.

Oler is the bishop of Bountiful's FLDS community, which is loyal to Jeffs.

Even though many of Bountiful's residents are related, followers of the two leaders are not allowed to talk with each other.

FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. Mormons renounced polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah's statehood.

The trial of the two men will continue on Feb. 18 in Cranbrook, B.C.

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