Canadians were part of Texas polygamous community

Globe and Mail, Canada/April 18, 2008

Warren Jeffs, the now-imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, would tell the man on the other end of the line to get his daughter ready. He would tell him she'd been hand-selected to live in the "holy land" - Mr. Jeffs's 1,691-acre Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Tex. - along with the religion's most fervent adherents, whom he referred to as the "heart's core."

A van, he'd say, would be arriving shortly to pick up their daughter.

The southeastern British Columbia town of Bountiful, a polygamous community with ties to the Texas stronghold, always suspected that their children were among those being lured to Zion, just as their U.S. counterparts were.

Yesterday, confirmation came.

An investigator from the Texas Division of Child Protection Services said some of the 416 children who had been seized from the Texas compound during a raid this month are Canadian citizens.

During her testimony, state investigator Angie Voss did not say how many of the children are Canadian, where they came from or how old they are, but affirmed the children should remain in state custody regardless of their citizenship.

The revelation came on the second day of the extraordinary mass hearing over the state's attempt to strip the parents of custody and place the children in foster homes. District Judge Barbara Walther ruled yesterday that all the children remain in state custody and be subject to genetic testing, after child welfare officials said they've had difficulty determining how the children and parents are related because of evasive or changing answers. Individual hearings will be set for the children over the next several weeks.

The children were removed during an April 3 raid on the sect's desert compound, built around a white limestone temple, because of evidence of physical and sexual abuse, including the forcing of underage girls into marriage and childbearing.

The raid was prompted by a call from someone identifying herself as a 16-year-old girl with the sect. She claimed her husband, a 50-year-old member of the sect, beat and raped her.

The girl has yet to be identified, but Ms. Voss said yesterday a girl matching her description was seen by other girls in the ranch garden four days before the raid began.

Word that Canadian children were among those before the court audibly rattled Jane Blackmore, a resident of Creston, B.C., in the Kootenays. She had been married to Winston Blackmore, the so-called bishop of Bountiful, who has more than 20 wives.

"Warren Jeffs's community is very closed. Even people living in Bountiful don't know who's missing from where," Ms. Blackmore said in a telephone interview yesterday, struggling to keep her voice calm. "They've been suspecting that. There has been suspicion of that happening."

But Debbie Palmer, also a former Bountiful wife, said the idea of giving up one's child to the "holy land" was welcomed by those still part of the sect. She cited the example of one of her nieces, who lives in Colorado City.

"If Warren Jeffs had decided that one of her children needed to be taken away from her and raised in the Texas compound, well then I know she would have given that child up. In Canada, it's the same thing."

Ms. Palmer said the girls are typically between two and 11 years old.

"The phone call comes and he says, 'Be ready to go, someone's going to come get you and then you'll be told what your special mission from God is.'"

The adults at the compound are considered his most loyal followers and the young children the least "contaminated" by the outside world, Ms. Palmer said.

Mr. Jeffs, the breakaway Mormon sect's leader, is currently awaiting trial in a Kingman, Ariz., jail on charges related to the promotion of underage marriages. He previously was convicted of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old wed to her cousin in a Utah case.

With a report from Associated Press

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