TORONTO (Reuters) - Two British Columbia men were sentenced to house arrest on Tuesday for having multiple wives, a lawyer for one of the men said, in what CBC News reported was Canada’s first convictions for polygamy in more than a century.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler were sentenced to six and three months of house arrest, respectively, the lawyer said. They were convicted on one count of polygamy each last July.
Both men are former bishops of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect within Bountiful, a religious community in southeastern British Columbia.
Blackmore’s defense lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said he thought the sentence was “a little higher” than he had hoped it would be but “not dramatically unreasonable.”
Suffredine said that Justice Sherry Anne Donegan “found it aggravating” that Blackmore continued practicing polygamy after 2011, when the British Columbia Supreme Court decided to uphold Canada’s laws prohibiting polygamy.
Suffredine said his client found himself in a dilemma between abandoning his large family and continuing to break the law.
Oler was not represented by a lawyer.
Blackmore married 24 women between 1990 and 2014, according to court documents. Canadian media reported that he has fathered at least 146 children.
Oler wed five women between 1993 and 2009, according to court documents.
Blackmore will serve his time in his Bountiful home, while Oler will likely be under house arrest in Alberta, where he lives, Suffredine said.
Their sentences will be followed by 12 months probation, with 150 hours of community service for Blackmore and 75 hours for Oler, Suffredine added.
Under Canadian law, the maximum penalty for polygamy is five years in jail.
The men previously entered not guilty pleas, with Blackmore’s defense counsel arguing that the polygamy law violated Bountiful community members’ religious rights.
Under Canada’s century-old polygamy law, the British Columbia government has been weighing prosecution since the early 1990s against members of the Bountiful community of 1,500 residents.
Despite multiple police investigations into claims of abuse in the community, it had declined to pursue polygamy charges because of concerns that doing so would violate constitutional freedom of religion.
In 2011, the British Columbia Supreme Court affirmed that laws banning polygamy were constitutional and did not violate religious freedom.
The mainstream Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy in 1890. The church sued Blackmore in 2014 for using its trademarked name, citing damaged reputation.
Reporting by Danya Hajjaji