A four-day gap in the whereabouts of a man’s underage daughter is enough to dispute whether she was removed from Canada 15 years ago, a lawyer argued at the B.C. trial of a fundamentalist Mormon who is accused of taking an underage girl across the border for sexual purposes.
James Marion Oler, 54, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bountiful, B.C., is charged with removing his 15-year-old daughter from Canada to Nevada in June 2004 to marry another member of the church, which practices polygamy.
Oler, who represented himself, did not call any witnesses or mount a legal defence during his trial. Lawyer Joe Doyle served as a friend of the court to ensure a fair trial.
Oler’s daughter, whose name is protected by a publication ban, was seen in Bountiful on June 20, 2004, and then witnessed four days later in Northern Idaho. Doyle argued that the prosecution did not prove that she was in Canada when Oler received a call on June 23, ordering him to bring his daughter to be married.
The religious documents submitted as evidence by Crown prosecutors included marriage and priesthood records. According to those records, Oler’s daughter was married on June 25, 2004, in Nevada to Warren Jeffs, the church prophet. Jeffs is now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for two counts of child sexual assault.
Doyle called into question the credibility of church records seized by U.S. law enforcement a decade ago, saying some were incomplete or inaccurate, the Cransbrook Townsman reports. He also questioned the validity of priesthood records— instructions, teaching, and activities dictated by Jeffs into a handheld voice recorder, a practice confirmed by witness testimony.
One of those audio recordings included Jeffs describing a phone call with Oler, where he ordered Oler’s daughter to be brought to the United States to be married.
A witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, testified that she and Oler’s daughter were married in separate ceremonies in Mesquite, Nevada, on June 25, 2004, after traveling together from the U.S. border the day before, according to the Cransbrook Townsman.
The witness said she drove with her parents across the border into Idaho, then soon pulled over. They then switched vans, which contained Oler and his daughter.
The Crown wrapped up its case Monday, with Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson arguing that the Crown doesn’t have to prove that sexual activity took place between the girl and the man she married.
“The Crown only has to prove that at some point during the unfolding of the events, that the accused intended or subjectively foresaw that (the girl) would be subject to sexual contact,” Wilson told a B.C. Supreme Court judge in Cranbrook.
He said Oler should have known that the girl would be subject to sexual activity following her marriage based on the nature of church doctrine and the role of women in the faith.
Jeff’s daughter, Rachel Jeffs, testified that women were taught to obey men, especially one’s father or husband, the Cransbrook Townsman reports. She said she was placed in an arranged marriage when she was 18.
“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.”
This is the second time Oler has been on trial for the charges.
He was originally acquitted in 2017 by a judge who wasn’t convinced Oler did anything within Canada’s borders to arrange the girl’s transfer to the United States. However, in a unanimous decision, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that proof of wrongdoing in Canada was not necessitated by the law and ordered a new trial.
In a separate case, Oler was found guilty of practising polygamy by the B.C. Supreme Court on July 24, 2017.
The judge has reserved her decision and tentatively scheduled a ruling in Cranbrook Supreme Court for June 24.
With files from The Canadian Press