A special prosecutor in British Columbia has declined to pursue further charges against members of a fundamentalist Mormon community with ties to Utah, located on the U.S.-Canadian border.
One of those whom it appears was under investigation was Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs.
In a statement on Tuesday, the B.C. Prosecution Service announced its special prosecutor looking into crimes in the polygamous border town of Bountiful had declined any more charges. In addition to polygamy, which is illegal in Canada, the prosecutor had been looking at charges of sexual exploitation and bringing people across the border for arranged marriages.
The community of Bountiful, an extension of the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., has been under investigation by Canadian authorities since 2012 and under public scrutiny for decades.
Two Bountiful leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, were both convicted and sentenced to some jail time. Oler was a bishop in the Fundamentalist LDS Church. Blackmore was ousted from the Utah-based faith but continued to exercise influence in the community. In addition, Canadian prosecutors successfully convicted Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Ruth Gail Blackmore on charges of bringing a child across the border under orders from FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
Others in the community were under investigation, but in a report made public, the special prosecutor said it would be difficult to get a conviction for sexual exploitation.
"As I have already pointed out, all of the proposed counts involve women who continue to live in relationships with [Winston] Blackmore which have endured, in some cases, for decades. In many instances, the alleged sexual exploitation occurred years if not decades ago. A prosecution would likely cause significant emotional distress to complainants who have emphatically rejected any notion that they are now or were ever victims," special prosecutor Peter Wilson wrote.
Human trafficking-related charges would also be difficult to prove, Wilson said. In his report, he disclosed that some of the cases investigated involve imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs himself. But it fell short of Canada's law related to human trafficking.
"While there seems little doubt that Child 4 and Child 5 were at risk of being sexually exploited by Jeffs, it would be difficult to maintain the position that they were providing 'labour' or a 'service' under an actual threat to their safety. The conduct prohibited by the human trafficking offence is decidedly focused on a form of economic exploitation. While there can be no dispute that sexual exploitation could have an economic dimension (e.g., child sex slavery), the circumstances of this case do not fit well within the language of the Code," Wilson wrote. "
In my view, having regard to the relevant interpretive principles, it would stretch the language of the Code to argue that by having sex in the context of their marriage to Jeffs, Child 4 or Child 5 were providing a 'labour or a service,' and that it was performed under a threat to safety."
Jeffs, who led the Utah-based FLDS Church and was once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, is serving a life, plus-20 year sentence in Texas having been convicted of charges related to underage marriages. He remains the figurehead of the FLDS Church.
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