(Top photo of now-convicted child trafficker Brandon J. Blackmore by Jackie Dives.)
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
After decades of police investigation into a polygamist settlement in southeastern BC, members of the Mormon sect have been convicted of child trafficking for the first time in Canada. On Friday, Justice Paul Pearlman of British Columbia's Supreme Court found Brandon and Gail Blackmore guilty of bringing their 13-year-old daughter across the US border for sexual purpose in 2004. The decision marks the first time parents have been held criminally responsible for a long-running child bride pipeline between Bountiful, BC and several American polygamist colonies. For decades the deeply religious settlement had been accused of taking dozens of young girls across the border to be married to leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). The Blackmores' daughter was married to now-convicted pedophile Warren Jeffs in Colorado City, Nevada in 2004. Jeffs is still considered a prophet to the most devout members of the sect, even as he serves a life sentence in Texas prison. The Bountiful trial relied heavily on Jeffs' personal records on child marriages, which were uncovered during a US investigation in 2008. The evidence included an audio recording of Jeffs having sex with the Blackmores' young daughter. Read More: Why I Left a Polygamist Colony but Stayed in My Plural Marriage The Cranbrook courtroom also heard details of the cultural practices that encouraged early marriage and obedience. Former members of the community say Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler controlled nearly all aspects of women and girls' lives—from who they married to where they lived and worked. Some say these men were ringleaders that pressured many families into child marriage.
"I wasn't surprised that they were found guilty," former Bountiful member Twyla Quinton told VICE. "I just hope that the judge takes into consideration the control that Warren had over Brandon and his family when he decides what the sentence will be." Girls in Bountiful were taught to never question their husbands or fathers, to never to turn down sexual advances, and to have as many children as possible. Going against these teachings could lead to excommunication from the closed-off fundamentalist settlement. Brandon J. Blackmore is the brother of Bountiful leader Winston Blackmore, who has 145 children and is charged with polygamy. RCMP have been pushing for charges against Winston as far back as 1991. Those charges were delayed by a Charter challenge that sought to determine whether or not polygamy could be protected under religious freedom. Winston has not been charged with trafficking, and his polygamy charge still hasn't been heard in court. James Oler, Bountiful's top leader to Warren Jeffs loyalists, was found not guilty of trafficking his 15-year-old daughter. The judge said he could not prove Oler took her across the border to be married in 2004.
Read More: The Women Changing Canada's Most Notorious Polygamist Colony from the Inside Oler split off from Winston's followers as a loyalist to Warren Jeffs in the 1990s. To this day, "Warrenites" have maintained the group's most hardline practices. Women who follow Oler and Jeffs still wear pioneer dresses and avoid contact with the outside world, while Winston's followers are viewed as more open to reform. Both Oler and Gail Blackmore caused delay and drama in court by refusing to get a lawyer. They sat silently through most of the trial, and chose not to deliver closing arguments.
Brandon and Gail Blackmore will be sentenced April 13, and could face up to 10 years in prison.
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