Canada/USA: Investigation of Cross-Border Underage Polygamous Marriages

Publication Date: 
August 9, 2011
The Canadian Press
Members of the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. walk down a road near Creston, B.C. April 2008. (Photo: Jonathan Hay)

VANCOUVER — The RCMP is preparing to head to Texas to look for more than two dozen brides from Bountiful, B.C., who were allegedly sent across the border as teens to marry older men, including a polygamous leader now facing a life sentence for sexually assaulting two teenage girls.

The Mounties launched a new criminal investigation into Bountiful earlier this year after a constitutional case examining Canada's anti-polygamy law heard allegations of cross-border marriages in the 1990s and early 2000s.

B.C. Supreme Court heard that more than two dozen girls were sent to the United States to marry older men, while several American girls were married to Canadians.

At least three girls from Bountiful-- two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old -- were taken to the U.S. by their parents and married to leader Warren Jeffs, according to church records presented in court.

Jeffs is the self-proclaimed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which is the same religion practised by residents of Bountiful.

Cpl. Dan Moskaluk of the RCMP said investigators have been working with police and other agencies in the United States, particularly in Utah and Texas.

"We anticipate sending investigators stateside, particularly to Texas, to make contact with possible victims in that area," Moskaluk said in an interview.

"We are hopeful of receiving co-operation from the victims and witnesses. We're there to help and protect these victims."

The church's traditional headquarters is along the Utah-Arizona border, but in 2004 it established a compound in Texas, which was raided by state authorities in 2008.

Bountiful is a small commune in southeastern British Columbia, just south of Creston near Canada-U.S. border, where about 1,000 residents follow the teachings of the FLDS. The church is a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Moskaluk said investigators haven't uncovered any evidence that cross-border marriages are still occurring.

"The investigative team has been in the Creston area in contact with possible victims and witnesses," he said.

Neither of the two victims at the heart of Jeffs' convictions were Canadian, said Texas prosecutor Eric Nichols.

But Jeffs' trial did hear about two Canadian girls who were 12 years old when they were added to a group of Jeffs' brides known as the "Quorum of 12."

Nichols, who presented evidence in the B.C. court through written affidavits, wouldn't comment on whether he's been speaking with the RCMP, but he suggested his office would be eager to help.

"I can't comment on any particular matter under investigation, but any time where there are issues of interstate or international child abuse, law-enforcement authorities in all jurisdictions co-ordinate on those types of investigations," said Nichols.

The RCMP has investigated Bountiful several times during the past two decades, looking into allegations of polygamy, sexual abuse and human trafficking, but those investigations have never led to criminal trials or convictions.

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.

Unlike previous investigations involving Bountiful, the RCMP isn't looking into allegations of multiple marriage, said Moskaluk.

"This particular investigation in regards to the movement of child brides from Canada to the U.S. is totally separate from the previous investigation of polygamy," said Moskaluk.

Both Blackmore and Oler were implicated in the cross-border marriages that were outlined in the B.C. court case.

In at least one case, Blackmore was listed in court documents as the husband of a child bride. In two others, he is alleged to have taken his own daughters across the border to be wed.

Another marriage involved an American girl allegedly married to Oler.