Polygamy charges thrown out against B.C. religious leaders
Canwest News Service, Vancouver Sun and Global BC September 23, 2009
VANCOUVER — A religious leader accused of having more than one wife said he was relieved to hear that the polygamy charges against him have been thrown out.
B.C. Supreme Court Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein made the ruling Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court.
“It’s been a long hard summer,” said Winston Blackmore, who was charged with polygamy in January along with Jim Oler.
“We live in Canada. We’re Canadians, where charter rights supposed to be for everyone. So I’m happy,” he said Wednesday in the fundamentalist commune of Bountiful, located in southeastern B.C.
Blackmore, 52, and Oler, 44, filed separate court petitions seeking to quash the charges against them.
The charges were initially recommended by special prosecutor Terry Robertson — the third outside counsel hired by the Ministry of the Attorney General to review evidence gathered during a two-year RCMP investigation.
In a decision released Wednesday, Stromberg-Stein ruled B.C.’s attorney general had no jurisdiction to direct his staff to appoint Robertson as a special prosecutor.
The two previous prosecutors had recommended that the anti-polygamy section of the Criminal Code be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal to determine whether it breaches the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
In September 2006, following an investigation by the RCMP, Crown counsel decided not to lay any charges.
Then-attorney general Wally Oppal decided a review of the matter was required and special prosecutor Richard Peck was appointed to conduct a charge assessment.
Peck decided not to lay any charges and Oppal appointed Len Doust, another prominent criminal defence lawyer, to review Peck’s decision. In April 2008, Doust confirmed Peck’s finding and declined to prosecute.
In June 2008, Robertson was then appointed by the ministry and in January he approved the charges against Blackmore and Oler.
Despite the judge’s ruling, Oppal defended his position.
“I stand by what I did,” he said Wednesday. “Polygamy is contrary to our principles. (The) case ought to have been prosecuted on that basis.”
Attorney General Mike de Jong added he was disappointed by the ruling, adding he will now review the case and determine whether or not to appeal.
“It’s not the result that obviously we were hoping for or looking for and it’s obviously an impediment to advancing this prosecution,” he said.
“The first order of business will be to read the decision in it’s entirety, which I haven’t done yet,” he added.
“There’s a decision to be made around a possible appeal.”
De Jong also defended his predecessor who launched the prosecution.
“The attorney of the day, Mr. Oppal, was confronted by an important and difficult decision,” he said.
“He made a decision in the best way he knew and I know with the best of intentions,” he added. “I supported that decision.”
Premier Gordon Campbell added he was “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling.
“I think it’s important to solve the issue,” he said.