A convicted polygamist leader associated with Bountiful has been sentenced to 12 months in jail for his role in removing a child from Canada to marry an American Mormon fundamentalist in 2004.
James Marion Oler did not react as Justice Martha Devlin imposed the sentence in Cranbrook Supreme Court on Thursday morning. Before the ruling, he addressed the court by thanking staff, lawyers and the judge for their kindness and respect while also reciting a poem his daughter had given him.
The sentencing concludes a legal process that began five years ago when he was charged with the removal of a child from Canada under a criminal code subsection that the removal would facilitate sex offences.
He was also charged and eventually convicted of polygamy alongside Bountiful leader Winston Blackmore last year.
In her sentencing, Justice Devlin said she considered factors such as the nature of the crime itself, the abuse of Oler’s position as a trusted authority figure and the impact his role had on others.
“Mr. Oler was in a position of trust with his young daughter,” Deviln said. “He abused that. In her sheltered, cloistered world, he was the only person she could rely on for security and protection. He knew under the FLDS doctrine, she was expected to obey him as both the father and priesthood head. Rather than protecting his own child from sexual contact, Mr. Oler deliberately placed her in a situation where that contact was inevitable and expected.”
Justice Devlin also noted mitigating factors such as a clean criminal record prior to the polygamy conviction and that he acted on sincerely held religious beliefs rather than being motivated by money or sexual gratification.
Oler, a former bishop of a polygamous community south of Creston, was ordered to bring his daughter to the United States by Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), in June 2004.
According to FLDS records seized by law enforcement in 2008 at an FLDS compound in Texas, Jeffs contacted Oler by telephone on June 23, 2004, and told him to bring his daughter to be married.
A trial witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified she travelled to the United States in a van with her parents at the Porthill crossing south of Creston on June 24, 2004.
Shortly after crossing, the van pulled over to a rest area, where she went into the woods to relieve herself. After returning to the van, another vehicle had pulled in containing Oler and his daughter.
Everyone except for one person piled into the newly arrived van and headed to Mesquite, Nevada.
There, 18 marriage ceremonies were recorded into FLDS documents, including Oler’s daughter into a polygamous marriage, while the trial witness, who was 16 years old at the time, was also married to an FLDS member decades older than her.
Oler himself was also married in a polygamous union during the same day.
Justice Devlin rejected a bid by the Crown asking her to exercise her discretion in considering the removal of the trial witness as a sentencing factor even though Oler was not charged for it. She cited a failure by the Crown to prove that Oler knew the precise age of the witness before her removal from Canada.
Oler was found guilty of the child removal charge earlier this year after he was acquitted in the first trial proceedings alongside two co-accused, however, the Crown successfully challenged the acquittal in the B.C. Court of Appeal, which awarded a new trial.
Oler, 55, had been living in isolation in Alberta working as a mechanic. He was reportedly kicked out of the Bountiful community for participating in legal proceedings that examined the constitutionality of polygamy nearly a decade ago.