Former Bountiful resident tells court of childhood marked by loneliness, lack of love

By Keith Fraser,

The Province

January 18, 2011 

A man who fled the polygamous community of Bountiful broke down in tears on Tuesday as he described how his mother made him feel he was better off dead.

Truman Oler told the polygamy trial being heard in B.C. Supreme Court that a number of factors led to him deciding in his early 20s to leave the small fundamentalist Mormon community.

He said the FLDS community was in the process of splitting into two competing groups — with his brother and religious leader James Oler on one side, and religious leader Winston Blackmore on the other — and his brother had recently told him he was ready to be placed in marriage.

Attempts at reconciliation with his family have been difficult, especially with his mother, he told B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman.

“One time she told me a story, that one time she had a stillborn child, and it made me feel she wished I was that child,” he said. “I just wish she didn’t have to feel that way at all. If I talk to her, most of the time she treats me as if I am a stranger.”

Oler, a 29-year-old father of two, said he didn’t understand why his mother is so dismissive of him since he’s led an exemplary life.

“I wish there was something I could do, so my mother could see I’m a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. I don’t breach any laws. I help my family.”

Oler was asked by Karen Horsman, a lawyer for the attorney-general’s ministry, why he agreed to become involved in the trial.

“It would be so nice to one day be able to go down to the house that I grew up in and see my family and have them treat me like a son, a brother, a friend.”

At times during his testimony Oler had to pause at length to compose himself, reaching for a Kleenex at one point to wipe away the tears.

Oler, whose father had six wives and 47 children in all, spoke of a community in which the men are often away working for lengthy periods and seldom get a chance to see any of their many children.

“I have a brother who has three wives and I don’t know how many kids. He goes out to work, for months on end and never sees the kids.”

He said the “most important thing in the world” to him is to spend time with his children and give his wife a little break in the day.

“Personally I can’t see why they have so many children if they don’t want to take care of them,” he said of Bountiful.

Oler said boys in the community were told they had to marry a woman at the age of 18 to 20.

“It was the Prophet, the God’s decision. Winston had a lot to do with who married whom.”

He said he spent very little one-on-one time with his mother because there were so many children around.

There was bickering among the various wives and boys were kept apart from girls and taught to believe the girls were like poisonous snakes, he said.

Oler said he dropped out of school after Grade 9, with the attitude being that it was better to put boys to work building posts and poles than have them get an education. Girls would often get placed in marriage after Grade 10, occasionally being pulled out of school to get married and never to return, he said.

Oler said he was put to work for Blackmore when he was 13 years old, earning $20 every second week though he was working full time.

Every male over the age of 18 had to tithe to the church $1,000 every other month, he told the court.

After the split in the community, Blackmore was demoted and thereafter started his own religious meetings, but whole families were divided as they were forced to choose sides, said Oler.

“There were family members on both sides, not talking to each other and not allowed to talk to each other.”

The acrimony seemed contrary to their teachings that they were to love one another and their neighbour and spurred his decision to leave the community, he said.

After his powerful testimony, none of the lawyers opposing polygamy wanted to cross-examine Oler.

George Macintosh, a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the pro-polygamy forces, thanked Oler for his testimony.

The judge has been asked to decide whether the polygamy law is constitutional. The issue was referred to him after James Oler and Blackmore had their polygamy charges stayed in 2009.

James Oler was initially on the witness list but last week the court was told he would not be testifying.

Note from Nancy:  Truman Oler’s story is also told in Daphne Braham’s The Secret Lives of Saints: Child brides and lost boys in Canada’s polygamous Mormon Sect

 How it angers me that so many children from Bountiful and U.S. FLDS have been denied a proper education for decades!   When will those responsible for the shattered lives of so many people be held accountable for their actions? 

 Shame on us…shame on us as a society for allowing this to happen!

  1. Nancy, It does bother me that FLDS children are denied their charter right to an education, but it bothers me just as much that the BC government has provided funding for both schools in Bountiful with no strings attached. Everytime I see a logging truck on the highway with “JR Blackmore” on the door I wonder how many education dollars were used to buy it.

    • Excellent observation and question, GH. This blog needs more eyewitness accounts from the public sector.


      • The government of Saskatchewan also provides legislated support for polygamy. This is way above and beyond funding of institutional fundintg support… with “no strings attached”. It is called “relationship overlap” and is the root of all evil; slippery slope to legalized polygamy.
        The government of Saskatchewan has actually provided approval through the constitutional questions act, that has stated it is not unconstitutional to force unmarried persons to become the spouse of a person who has a spouse”.

  2. You say:
    “It’s unconstitutional to force unmarried persons to become the spouse of any person”. Not true.
    The reality is that a Consitutional Questions Act court hearing was held 2 years ago in Saskatchewan and the ruling was that it does not violate the unmarried persons rights to force them to become the spouse of a person who has a spouse.

  3. “This was not done in 1890, nor was it part of any agreement.”
    Not sure what michamartina refers to in the above statement, the mainstream mormon ban of polygamy or John A McDonald’s refusal to permit Card to practice polygamy in Canada. If the later, it certainly was agreed between parties that Polygamy was prohibited in Canada and is recorded in Hansard.

  4. Perhaps you are a thinking of the American anti-polygamy legislation? (It is different legislation) Polygamy does not mean forced marriage. Forced marriage is a different matter but could occur in polygamy as well. Canada’s polygamy law under s.293 prohibits an “authority” from authorizing, providing consent for or being any party to sanctioning multiple spouses; and persons from claiming to have more than one civilly or religiously authorized concurrent spouse. Polygamy is claiming to have more than one authorized conjugal union at a time (married state). Adultery is not illegal.

    Below are exerts from a legal judgment involving the Constitutional Questions Act trial in Saskatchewan. They are arranged in order to provide relevant information:

    The respondent filed a document entitled “Notice of Motion under the Constitutional Questions Act”. The respondent alleges that the provisions of the FPA (Saskatchewan Family Property Act) which permit an individual to have more than one spouse at the same time “offend and deny” his rights under the Charter [ss. 1, 2(a) and (b), 7, 12, 15, 33].

    The respondent contends in the further alternative that if the FPA enables the petitioner to claim spousal status as the result of cohabitation during the period of time in which she was lawfully married to someone else, those provisions must be held to be in contravention of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11 (“the Charter”), and thus invalid.

    Having received notice pursuant to The Constitutional Questions Act, R.S.S. 1978, c. C-29, the Attorney General for Saskatchewan appeared by counsel at trial. In my view, the submissions on behalf of the Attorney General are accurate, convincing and fair.

    The Criminal Code provisions have no application to this case and therefore the relevant provisions of The Family Property Act do not affect the Respondent’s liberty interest in this regard.

    The provisions do not relate to the federal jurisdiction over marriage.

    The provisions of the Act apply equally to men and to women, and to married couples, and to unmarried couples living in a relationship. Given the equality of treatment, there is no breach of either s. 15 or 28 of the Charter.

    The Act does not infringe his freedom of religion or [sic] freedom of association

    s.51 Where a person becomes the spouse of a person who has a spouse, the rights pursuant to this Act of the subsequent spouse are subject to the rights pursuant to this Act of the prior spouse.

    I observe at the outset that there is abundant and convincing evidence to support the petitioner’s contention that the parties were spouses for the purposes of the FPA. It is unnecessary to go into elaborate detail.

    Clearly the (new spousal) commencement date is July 1, 2000. The petitioner’s divorce from her previous husband occurred on August 25, 2005.

    As well, the submissions on behalf of the Attorney General, adopted on behalf of the petitioner, as to the inapplicability of the provisions of the Criminal Code, are entirely straightforward and sound.

    The respondent alleges that because the petitioner was lawfully married to someone else while she lived with the respondent, she committed polygamy contrary to s. 293 of the Criminal Code. The respondent’s allegation in this regard is obviously without relevance or legal merit. I do not intend to comment further on it.
    {Concerned writer, think Winston and replace respondent with prosecutor and she with he!}

    This is the answer to the respondent’s contention that the petitioner did not become his spouse for the purposes of the division of family property pursuant to the FPA.

    Section 51 of the FPA provides:

    51 Where a person becomes the spouse of a person who has a spouse, the rights pursuant to this Act of the subsequent spouse are subject to the rights pursuant to this Act of the prior spouse.

    {Note by concerned writer}:

    It seems another read of Canada’s anti-polygamy law might help:

    s.293..everyone who:

    practices or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practice or enter into
    any form of polygamy, or
    any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
    whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or

    celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii)
    is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

    Evidence in case of polygamy
    Where an accused is charged with an offence under this section, no averment or proof of the method by which the alleged relationship was entered into, agreed to or consented to is necessary in the indictment or on the trial of the accused, nor is it necessary on the trial to prove that the persons who are alleged to have entered into the relationship had or intended to have sexual intercourse.

    The judgment deemed it “without relevance” and “without legal merit” that the woman had another legal spouse while the government authorized, provided unilateral consent for a binding “contract” and in all manner was party to the woman having more concurrent spouses. Also the court documents note that neither the existing husband nor the new husband consented and also had agreement with the woman that neither person(s) would consider additional spousal status and eligibility prior to her becoming divorced from her husband. The trial documents included the judge’s observance that the woman had the right to change her mind. In the case of bigamy which is a different law, people must consent to a marriage ceremony and cases usually involve some sort of fraud or deception. In polygamy one can just change their mind.

    Bear in mind the criminal code prohibits authorizing:

    “any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time” or everyone who is party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction such a relationship”.

    If undivorced marriages are no longer a conjugal union then there is no sanctity of marriage and no finality and societal benefits of divorce in Canadian legislation. If undivorced marriages are a conjugal union, and common law marriages are a conjugal union, then they cannot coexist at the same time without contravening s.293. How would an unmarried person protect their belief in Canadian law if a married person can legally claim them unilaterally as spouses, while either or both of them have other spouse(s)?

    Documents indicate the respondent did NOT claim the woman did commit polygamy. Documents indicate he claimed if the court authorized or provided consent for concurrent legal spousal status and forced him to become the legal spouse of a person who has a spouse, then that was illegal (s.293) Also if the woman claimed to have sanctioning by an authority to be the mans legally recognized spouse while she remained married, then that was also illegal.

    If Bountiful residents, or any other cultural group wish to claim legal recognition and authorization to multiple spouses under combinations of civil marriage and “common law marriages”, then that is obviously approved in Saskatchewan. What is the difference between promoting that BC women should have the human dignity of having a husband that is not married to another (at the same time) and a man in Saskatchewan wanting the human dignity of having a wife that is not married to another (at the same time)?
    Conversely, if a married man in BC wanted more legal spouses, prior to divorcing his first spouse(s), then any potential prosecution based on the relevance of the criminal code to his action (contravening s.293) would be ruled to be “obviously without relevance or legal merit”. Possibly, the potential trial judge would comment that he or she did not intend to comment any further on it. Equality of treatment for Canadians across all of Canada is a federal law too.

    More to the point, is it legal for a provincial legislation to allow and sanction multiple simultaneous conjugal unions? When one reads s.293, it isn’t legal.

    The BC government appears to want to say that “religiously sanctioned” or celestial marriages’ involving multiple concurrent spouses is not legal.

    Saskatchewan says their province has the power to provide consent and that their family legislation permits multiple simultaneous spouses without contravening s.293.

    Maybe it is religious persecution to prosecute only celestial marriages that involve the sanctioning of multiple spouses while allowing provincially authorized ones?

  5. “michamartina” has his/her own blog. I suggest s/he use it for his/her ramblings.

    And, I suggest that the people in Saskatchewan who are so upset about the Family Property Act s. 51 there also start your own blog. You repeat yourselves adnausium and really do not bring any organization to your rants. Please, please get off this blog and stay off.

    Further comments from you and from “michamartina” will be trashed.

    Yes, you have freedom of speech and press, but I have the privilege of editing this blog and I don’t want to hear from you again.

    Nancy Mereska, President
    Stop Polygamy in Canada

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