Ousted Bountiful bishop reported on child brides to RCMP

Still no charges in B.C. as Ken Oler tells his story for a Utah civil lawsuit

The Vancouver Sun/March 19, 2014
By Daphne Bramham

In 2011, former bishop Ken Oler went to the Creston RCMP detachment to report that marriages of under-aged girls were being sanctioned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Days earlier, he had lost everything. He had been stripped of his position, his family, his home and forced out of the church by the FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who still controls his flock despite being in a Texas prison.

Born into one of the founding families of Bountiful, B.C., Oler had never spoken out before. Oler had two wives of his own. His father, Dalmon, had been investigated for polygamy in the 1990s, but never charged. And, Oler must have known that 10 of the 26 wives that his brother-in-law Winston Blackmore had married had been under 18.

Last month, under oath in a deposition for a Utah civil case involving church-owned property, Oler acknowledged that he’d reported under-aged brides to the RCMP. And, in the deposition, he identified Canadian girls from a list of more than 70 names.

Two of the girls — Oler’s half-sisters — were only 15 and 16 when they were married. The third was 13 when she was taken illegally across the U.S. border in 2005 by her parents to become one of Jeffs’s 80 or more wives.

Three years later, that third girl was found at the Yearning for Zion Ranch during the raid that eventually led to Jeffs’s conviction for the aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old and the sexual assault of a 15-year-old.

Texas child protection services notified the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development about the Canadian teen. But the ministry did nothing to retrieve her. Oler believes the girl is now living somewhere in the United States with Jeffs’s son.

And, nearly three years after Oler reported to police and more than two years after RCMP handed its files to B.C. special prosecutor Peter Wilson, nothing has happened.

Eight months before Oler went to the RCMP, he had been appointed bishop for the 500 or so members of FLDS’s Canadian congregations in Rosemary and Cardston, in Alberta, and Bountiful.

He replaced his half-brother, James Oler, whom Jeffs had “sent away” because of a court action in B.C.

Ken Oler said that his half-brother had “not been given directives to action (sic) ... the way that he was doing.”

In November 2010, the B.C. Supreme Court began hearing a constitutional reference case to determine the validity of the Criminal Code’s anti-polygamy law. A year earlier, both James Oler and his predecessor, Winston Blackmore, had been charged with one count each of polygamy. Those charges were dropped because of a procedural error.

Oler doesn’t know what has become of his half-brother; his family has heard nothing from him and RCMP have been notified that he is missing.

Ken Oler said he was surprised when told that Jeffs wanted him to be bishop.

Did he take the role voluntarily, Oler was asked in the Utah case.

“I don’t know if I would use the word ‘voluntarily’

“The problem that you face is if you refuse something, then the first thing they (the FLDS) do is they come after your family. It’s happened numerous times where people lose their families because they refuse a directive from Warren Jeffs.”

Oler described Jeffs as “very draconian … very radical.”

“He was sending these, you know, what he called revelations. … There was probably only maybe about five per cent of what he sent that was ever presented (by me) to the people in forms of, you know, maybe some innocent trainings.

“But as far as some of his directives, like sending people away from the community, I shredded those and I never acted out on any of them. And because of my position against what he was doing, I notified him by way of letter that I was no longer willing to have anything to do with him or his teachings or his directives.”

Oler sent the letter to the Texas prison where Jeffs is serving a life sentence.

He said in his deposition that he’d previously told other FLDS members that “I was not on side with that (child marriages).” But he had never spoken about it outside the community because he knew the repercussion.

“My whole process had to be thought through very carefully because today I’m gone and … I don’t have my family, my wife and … (I’ve got) four kids that are there … I knew that they wouldn’t come when I took the stand that I took.

“So it was … it’s quite a, you know, a heart-wrenching, you know, decision that you have to make. But you have to make it for the sake of what’s right.”

About a week after Oler had mailed his letter, Russell Johnson arrived from the United States with orders from Jeffs to banish Oler.

Oler moved to Rocky Mountain House, Alta. with his 17-year-old daughter. A few months later, his 15-year-old daughter was also sent away by Johnson.

In 2012, Oler’s two other teenage daughters joined him, a year after he and five other excommunicated fathers had gone to court to gain access to the 40 children they’d been forced to leave behind.

Over the past 20 years, many other girls haven’t been as lucky as Oler’s daughters. They’ve had neither their parents nor the B.C. government step up and protect them.

Bountiful chronology

October 1991 — RCMP conclude a 13-month investigation and recommend charges be laid against the bishop of Bountiful, Winston Blackmore, and FLDS elder Dalmon Oler.

June 1992 — The B.C. Attorney General’s ministry rejects the RCMP’s charge recommendation, citing undisclosed legal opinions that suggest the polygamy section of the Canada’s Criminal Code is unconstitutional.

2002 —James Oler (Dalmon’s son) is appointed bishop after Winston Blackmore is ousted by FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.

June 2004 — After complaints of abuse in Bountiful, Attorney General Geoff Plant asks RCMP to investigate.

Aug. 25, 2006 — Three months after being placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List, FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs is arrested outside Las Vegas on a routine traffic stop.

Aug. 1, 2007 — Special Prosecutor Richard Peck recommends that rather than laying charges against Winston Blackmore and possibly others in Bountiful, the province should determine the constitutionality of the law. Attorney General Wally Oppal disagrees and a month later asks another special prosecutor, Leonard Doust, to review the RCMP evidence and Peck’s decision.

Sept. 25, 2007 — FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs is convicted on two counts as an accomplice to rape of Elissa Wall, who was 14 when Jeffs forced her to marry her 19-year-old, first cousin.

April 2008 – Texas law enforcement and child protection officers raid the Yearning for Zion Ranch and take 462 children and 100 women into protective custody. Among those children is a girl from Bountiful who had been 13 when her parents took her illegally across the U.S. border to marry Warren Jeffs. The raid resulted in Jeffs’s 2011 conviction and life sentence for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault of two, 12-year-old girls.

Jan. 7, 2009 — Winston Blackmore and James Oler are charged with one count each of polygamy. The charges are stayed in September because of a procedural error. British Columbia launches a constitutional reference case to determine the validity of the polygamy law.

Early 2011 – From his Texas jail cell, Warren Jeffs banishes James Oler for not following his directives regarding the court actions. His half-brother, Ken Oler, becomes the Canadian bishop.

November 2011 – B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman upholds the criminal sanction against polygamy.

November 2011 – Bishop Ken Oler writes a letter to Warren Jeffs denouncing the practice of child marriages. Within a week, he is stripped of his wives, children, home and position. Oler goes to RCMP to report child marriages.

Jan. 17, 2012 – Peter Wilson appointed special prosecutor.

September 2012 – Six FLDS men banished from Bountiful go to court to get access to the 40 children they were forced to leave behind.

Feb. 28, 2014 – Ken Oler gives a voluntary deposition in a Utah civil case regarding FLDS-owned property and identifies three Bountiful girls who were child brides, including his two half-sisters.

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