Children of Canadian women may be among those seized from Texas sect

At least 5 women living at polygamist compound came from B.C.

Vancouver Sun/April 22, 2008

At least five Canadian women live in the fundamentalist Mormon compound in Eldorado, Texas, and their children may be among the 416 children now in protective custody.

Teressa Wall Blackmore, who left the reclusive sect nearly two years ago, can name five young women sent from Bountiful, B.C. to marry American members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who are now living in Eldorado. Of the five, she says, two are married to FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, who is said to have more than 80 wives, is in jail in Arizona, awaiting charges related to the forced marriage of under-aged girls. Last fall, he was convicted in Utah on two counts of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl, who he forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin.

(Polygamy is the principal tenet of the FLDS. Members believe that a man can reach the highest realm of heaven only if he has three or more wives. But men and women are not allowed to choose their marriage partners. They are assigned to marry based on the prophet's revelations.)

In addition to the five Canadian women, Blackmore said one of her younger sisters - an American - lives at the Texas ranch. Blackmore doesn't know how many children the women have.

No one - not Blackmore, Canadian government officials, B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal or the Texas authorities - can say exactly how many underage Canadian mothers and children are in protective custody.

Not only are Texas authorities having trouble determining how many Canadians there are, they can't figure out who the children's parents are. Many of the children don't know, won't say or are too young to answer the question, while some of the mothers have refused to say who the children's fathers are.

This is not surprising since members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are taught to fear the government and even lie to officials, since the principal tenet of their faith is the outlawed practice of polygamy.

Yet the reason the children are in custody is that Texas officials received a complaint from a woman claiming that she is a 16-year-old mother, who has had one child with a 50-year-old man and is pregnant with his second child. She also claimed that the man, whom she married in a religious or "celestial" marriage, has frequently beaten her.

Another reason for the confusion is the fact that Jeffs has broken up more than 100 families in the past six years, excommunicating the men and reassigning the wives and children to other men. Some boys who have left the group say that they were reassigned more than once.

Last Friday, in addition to ordering that the children remain in state protective care, Judge Barbara Walther ordered DNA tests for all the children. Testing began Monday and it is expected to be several days before all of the tests are completed.

Not only will the DNA help establish who the children's parents are, it may provide evidence authorities need to charge men with sexual abuse of underage girls they married in religious ceremonies.

The DNA tests will also help the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as it begins placing the children in foster care. A news release from DFPS says that as far as is possible, teen mothers and their children as well as siblings will be kept together and placed "in settings that do not expose the children to mainstream culture too quickly."

(The DFPS said Monday that the number of children in custody has been revised to 437 from 416 because a number of the girls who claimed to be adults are not yet 18. It also said that it will be June before all of the individual custody cases can be dealt with.)

Meanwhile, Canadian consular officials have offered help to the Texas authorities and are willing to help any Canadian parents with children in custody. So far, Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Eugenie Cormier-Lassonde says no one has asked for help in regaining custody of their children.

Still, there are indications that some Canadian parents will be asking for their children's return to Bountiful.

"I think that some folks went down to be there for today [Monday]," Winston Blackmore said in an e-mail. Blackmore was the FLDS bishop of Bountiful until Jeffs excommunicated him in 2002.

"I myself don't know who the children would be, but we are certainly interested in finding out."

B.C.'s attorney-general is also watching the situation closely. If there are indications that evidence gathered there might be of help in prosecuting British Columbians at home, Oppal is considering sending one of his staff to Texas.

Ever since the RCMP completed an investigation into Bountiful in December 2006, Oppal has been contemplating laying polygamy charges against some of the men in Bountiful including Blackmore, who openly admits to having multiple wives, including some who were only 15 and 16.

Among the possible evidence is that underage girls were sent illegally from Bountiful to the Texas compound to become plural wives to older men.

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