VANCOUVER - British Columbia has been unable to win polygamy convictions connected to the religious commune of Bountiful, but the province's attorney general is taking credit for helping to prosecute American polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.
Attorney General Barry Penner confirmed his ministry shared information with prosecutors leading up to the life sentence imposed by a Texas court after Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, was convicted of sexually assaulting two teen girls.
"We shared (information) with authorities in Texas and I am told that it proved to be useful in the recent prosecution and conviction of Mr. Jeffs," Penner said.
Penner didn't say exactly what details were offered to U.S. prosecutors, but hinted that the information came to light fairly recently.
"We developed some information and evidence as we were preparing our court case this spring, asking the courts to rule on Canada's prohibition under the Criminal Code for polygamous marriages," he said.
That constitutional case heard allegations of cross-border marriages involving more than two dozen teenage girls from Bountiful, including at least two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old, who were sent to the United States to marry older men, including Jeffs. Several American girls were married to Canadian men, the court heard.
The allegations came from FLDS records that were uncovered in 2008, when authorities in Texas raided the church's Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado. Prosecutors in Texas forwarded those records to B.C. government lawyers, who outlined them in court.
Those records also prompted the RCMP to launch a new criminal investigation into Bountiful, with officers planned to head to Texas soon to track down child brides from the community.
In turn, Canadian officials sent Texas the birth records for two of Jeffs' teen wives, said Eric Nichols, the prosecutor in the Jeffs case.
While the two girls Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting were American, Jeffs' sentencing hearing was told of a group of young brides known as the "Quorum of 12," which included two 12-year-old girls from Bountiful.
"Although the victims named in the two counts of conviction were not shown by evidence to be Canadian, in punishment proceedings following conviction, the state is allowed to introduce evidence of other bad acts and crimes by the defendant," Nichols told The Canadian Press in an email.
"Thus, the evidence of the defendant’s conduct with respect to these two Canadian girls was relevant to the jury’s determination on sentencing."
The B.C. constitutional case heard that Jeffs called the girls' parents in Bountiful and ordered them to bring their daughters to him, and they complied.
The girls were wed to Jeffs in "celestial" marriages in 2005 at the Texas ranch, said Nichols.
"This evidence showed that each of these girls was 12 years old at the time of these 'marriages,' which occurred on the same day," wrote Nichols, who also provided written affidavits to the B.C. court.
Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl, and 20 years for assaulting the 15-year-old, with whom he fathered a child. The 55-year-old will be eligible for parole in 35 years.
Bountiful is a small commune in southeastern British Columbia, just south of Creston near the Canada-U.S. border. About 1,000 residents in the community follow the teachings of the FLDS. The church is a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
The RCMP has investigated Bountiful several times during the past two decades, but so far no one from the community has been brought to trial or convicted.
The community's two leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, were each charged in 2009 with practising polygamy. Those charges were later thrown out over how the government chose its prosecutors.
That prompted the provincial government to ask the B.C. Supreme Court to decide whether Canada's prohibition on multiple marriage is constitutional. Hearings wrapped up in April and a decision is expected in the coming months, although the case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.