Court hears religious doctrine emphasized obedience to men in child bride case

CRANBROOK, B.C. — A British Columbia court heard evidence from three former members of a polygamous religious group in the trial of a man charged with removing a 15-year-old girl from Canada to marry a man in the United States.

They testified Thursday in Cranbrook, B.C., for the Crown in the case against James Marion Oler, a former leader of a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community in Bountiful, B.C.

A former member of Oler's group, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said she drove with her parents in a van across the United States border into Idaho on June 24, 2004.

Shortly after crossing the border, the van turned into a highway pullout and she left the vehicle to venture off into the woods.

When she returned, she said another van had pulled up. In it were Oler, and the 15-year-old girl. Most of the group then piled into the second van and headed on to Cedar City, Utah.

After staying the night in Cedar City, they continued on to Mesquite, Nev., where the witness testified that she and the 15-year-old were both married off in separate ceremonies.

Church records show 18 weddings that day.

In his opening statement, special prosecutor Peter Wilson said the Crown will prove that Oler should have reasonably expected the girl to be placed in a relationship that would facilitate sexual offences.

The daughter of Warren Jeffs', the church's president and prophet, testified that church members, particularly women, are taught from birth about the importance of obedience to fathers and husbands.

Rachel Jeffs left the fundamentalist sect four years ago, but grew up in its faith in Sandy Hill, Utah. She said she attended an academy led by her father, which included at least two hours a day of training in religious doctrine.

"We were taught that obedience is the first law of heaven," Jeffs said. "To get into heaven, we were taught that we had to obey our priesthood head. The priesthood head consists of the father in the home or the husband, depending what station of life you were in."

Jeffs said she was placed in an arranged marriage when she was 18, and was her husband's third wife.

"I knew I didn't really have a choice," she said. "They told me I had a choice, but I knew that if I said no, then they would kick me out of the church or … I wouldn't have any blessings. And I was told that if I didn't obey, I would lose my place in heaven.

"I was taught that I should submit to my husband in obedience, that he was my leader and my priesthood head and as a wife, I should cook and clean and sew and have children and take care of the children."

A third Crown witness, Brandon Seth Blackmore, testified that he last saw Oler and the 15-year-old girl at a church gathering roughly a week before the wedding.

He testified that the girl sang an old religious ballad, "This is Our Last Farewell."

Blackmore left the church in 2012.

During his upbringing, Blackmore was taught that plural marriage, or celestial marriage, was a required religious doctrine in order to get into heaven.

"I was taught that a woman's role was to sustain and support her husband and to conceive, bear and bring children forth through a celestial marriage," he said.

The trial will continue Friday in Cranbrook, with Crown prosecutors hoping to present closing arguments by next week.

Trevor Crawley, Cranbrook Daily Townsman, Cranbrook Daily Townsman

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