CRANBROOK, B.C. — A verdict is expected Monday in a trial of two former leaders of a British Columbia fundamentalist church who are charged with polygamy.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan has been presiding over the trial of Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who are accused of having multiple wives.
Both men were at one time bishops of separate sects in the isolated community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C.
The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Utah, officially renounced polygamy in the late 19th century and disputes the fundamentalist group's connection to Mormonism.
Blackmore is accused of having two dozen wives, while Oler is alleged to have married five women. Each man is charged with one count of polygamy.
The legal fight dates back to the early 1990s when police first investigated allegations that residents of an isolated religious community were practising the "celestial'' marriages.
A lack of clarity around Canada's polygamy laws led to failed attempts at prosecuting Blackmore, followed by several efforts to clarify the legislation, including a constitutional reference question to the B.C. Supreme Court.
The court ruled in 2011 that laws banning polygamy were valid and did not violate religious freedoms guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Blair Suffredine, Blackmore's lawyer, says he will apply for a stay of the decision because of its reliance on evidence that was gathered while there was confusion around the legality of Canada's polygamy laws.
Oler was appointed to lead community members in Bountiful following Blackmore's excommunication from the sect in 2002 by Warren Jeffs, head prophet of the U.S.-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two of his child brides.
Much of the evidence in the 12-day trial came from marriage and personal records seized in 2008 by law enforcement officials from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, an FLDS church compound in Texas.
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