The retrial for James Oler concluded in Cranbrook B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, as Madam Justice Martha Devlin reserved her judgement on the child removal charge until June.
James Oler, a former FLDS Bishop in Bountiful, B.C. southeast of Creston, is charged with removing a child from Canada for a sexual purpose for allegedly taking a 15-year-old girl into the United States in 2004 to be married to another member of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
Oler originally stood trial for the same charge back in 2016 but was acquited by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Pearlman, finding that the Crown didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Oler committed acts in Canada to remove the girl to the United States. Crown launched an appeal of the ruling and a new trial was ordered by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Under Section 273.3 of the Criminal Code of Canada, removal of a child from Canada doesn't constitute that the Crown has to prove Oler committed the act in Canada.
"273.3 (1) No person shall do anything for the purpose of removing from Canada a person who is ordinarily resident in Canada and who is
(a) under the age of 16 years, with the intention that an act be committed outside Canada that if it were committed in Canada would be an offence against section 151 or 152 or subsection 160(3) or 173(2) in respect of that person;
(b) 16 years of age or more but under the age of eighteen years, with the intention that an act be committed outside Canada that if it were committed in Canada would be an offence against section 153 in respect of that person;"
In closing arguments, Crown argued that "intention that an act be committed" is all they have to prove for Oler to be convicted and proven guilty of the offence. Reviewing the actus reus and mens rea of the offence, which are the physical and mental aspects of the crime, Crown felt that the evidence had satisfied all of those aspects.
In regards to the physical aspects, Crown argued to the court that Oler knew the girl was under the age of 16 at the time of the offence because of her birth certificate, and that Oler was in a position of authority as her priesthood head as well as the Bishop and leader of the Bountiful community, meaning she would be obedient to Oler. The girl's location and whereabouts were key in factoring into the B.C. Court of Appeal's decision to hold a retrial as they felt Pearlman didn't fully evaluate the evidence of her whereabouts in Canada when the offence took place.
During closing arguments, Madam Justice Devlin was told by the Crown that the girl was born at the Creston Valley Hospital in 1988, making her 15 years old at the time of the offence, and that school attendance records place her in Bountiful until at least February 1, 2004. But additional witness testimony from Brandon Seth Blackmore at the trial said the girl performed and sang an emotional song at church on June 19, 2004, in Bountiful, which is her last confirmed appearance in the community before she was allegedly removed from Canada and seen in the United States by another Crown witness on June 24, 2004.
In order for Oler to be found guilty of the offence, Crown has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the girl was in Canada on June 23, 2004, the day that Oler received a phone call from Warren Jeffs, Prophet and President of the FLDS Church, instructing him to bring the girl for the purpose of being married. Crown contested that there is a four-day window where they aren't entirely clear on where the girl was, but that it's "irrational" or "fanciful" to assume that she wasn't in Canada given previous testimony to the importance of obedience in the FLDS and the fact that girls or women in the Bountiful and other FLDS communities needed permission from their priesthood heads to travel or make any major decisions.
Joe Doyle, the court's lawyer to ensure James Oler receives a fair trial, argued in his closing submissions that Madam Justice Devlin will have to wrestle with the girl's whereabouts after the phone call to Oler on June 23, 2004, as it's essential that she be in Canada for the offence to be committed. Doyle also made arguments before the court that there is no record that Oler and the girl crossed the border, and no evidence of Oler's whereabouts when the offence was allegedly committed.
Testimony in the trial placed Oler and the underage girl in the United States on June 24, 2004, before they travelled to Cedar City, Utah and onwards to Mesquite, Nevada to be married in separate ceremonies performed by Warren Jeffs. According to witness testimony and a priesthood record submitted as evidence in the trial, Jeffs performed 18 marriages that day in June 2004.
Hearing all of the evidence and the closing arguments from Doyle and the Crown, Madam Justice Devlin has reserved her judgement until June 24, 2019, in Cranbrook B.C. Supreme Court although her decision could be made sooner dependant on scheduling.
If Oler is found guilty, he could face a maximum of five years in prison.
Summit 107's full coverage of James Oler's retrial in Cranbrook B.C. Supreme Court:
Crown Calls Final Witnesses at James Oler's Child Removal Trial (April 12, 2019)
James Oler's Child Removal Trial Enters Third Day in Cranbrook (April 3, 2019)