Two men, including one who has 25 wives and 146 children, were convicted of polygamy on Monday in a landmark ruling that upheld Canada’s longstanding ban on the practice.
Winston Blackmore and James Marion Oler, who has five wives, face up to five years in prison after being found guilty in the first real test of the country’s polygamy law, enacted 127 years ago.
Three special prosecutors had been appointed over the past two decades to consider bringing charges against the pair, but they backed down over concerns that the law prohibiting polygamy violated Canadians’ constitutional right to religious freedom.
Those fears were assuaged in 2011 when British Columbia province’s Supreme Court ruled in a reference case that the inherent harms of polygamy justified putting limits on religious freedoms, clearing the way for charges to be filed against Blackmore and Oler three years later.
Judge Sheri Ann Donegan of the British Columbia Supreme Court noted in her ruling that the main defendant, Blackmore, did not deny his polygamy.
“His adherence to the practices and beliefs of the FLDS is not in dispute,” she said.
Blackmore spoke briefly to reporters outside the courthouse in Cranbrook after the verdict, saying that he was living his religion and that it was very important to him and his family.
Oler left without speaking to reporters.
Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, had told the court during the trial that he would launch a constitutional challenge of Canada’s polygamy laws if his client was found guilty.
The two men are senior figures in the Fundamentalist…