CRANBROOK, B.C. — A woman who was one of 27 wives to a leader of a British Columbia polygamous sect told a courtroom Wednesday that women and girls in the religious community were taught to be obedient, marry young and have as many children as possible.
Jane Blackmore was the first witness called by special prosecutor Peter Wilson in the trial of three people with ties to the southeastern B.C. community of Bountiful.
Brandon Blackmore, Gail Blackmore and James Oler are each charged with taking girls from Canada into the United States for sexual purposes.
Jane Blackmore told the court she was Winston Blackmore's first wife. He is one of the leaders of the polygamous community of Bountiful, where some of the residents engage in plural marriages.
Wilson told the court in his opening statement that his line of questioning was meant to outline the community's beliefs around sex and marriage and prove that there was intent by the three accused to commit the offences, which date back to 2004.
Jane Blackmore, whose father was a convert to the faith, testified that she moved with her family from Brooks, Alta., to Bountiful as an infant in 1957.
She said she is related to two of the accused, sharing the same father with Oler and Brandon Blackmore is her former brother-in-law.
The slight, soft-spoken woman described learning from a young age that plural marriage is key to reaching the "highest degree of celestial glory" in the afterlife, but that it's necessary to live a life that is "secret and separate" from mainstream society.
All three of the accused were present for those lessons, she said.
Around the time she turned 15, her father began asking every six months whether she was ready to marry, she testified.
"Each time, I did my best to delay that journey."
At 18, she finally told her father she was ready, saying that many in the community were becoming "anxious about my unmarried state."
"I decided to concede to the pressure."
In May 1975 the sect's prophet said God had revealed that she was to marry Winston Blackmore, who was around the same age and whom she knew well.
Jane Blackmore choked back tears as she recounted feeling physically ill when she learned who her future husband would be.
"I felt like I'd been sucker punched," she said.
But Blackmore agreed to "carry out this assignment" and her wedding took place the following morning.
"I did not feel like I was in a position to refuse this marriage. I believed I had received instructions from God."
She said she believed backing out would "send me to damnation."
She was one of the few girls in Bountiful to graduate and even fewer to continue her education, training as a registered nurse, and later a midwife, Blackmore testified.
Blackmore told the court she has delivered hundreds of babies in Bountiful to mothers ranging in age from 15 to 45.
Her husband took her wages and gave her back enough to buy groceries and other essentials, she testified.
He also dictated how she was to dress, style her hair, cook and clean, she said.
The court heard that she split from her husband in 2003, around the time a rift opened up in Bountiful between followers of Winston Blackmore and those aligned with U.S. polygamous leader Warren Jeffs.
By the time her more that 27-year marriage ended, she was sharing her husband with 26 wives. She left with their youngest of their seven children, a nine-year-old daughter, and moved to nearby Creston, B.C.