CRANBROOK, B.C.—A four-day gap in the whereabouts of a 15-year-old girl is enough to dispute whether she was removed from Canada in 2004 to marry a member of a fundamentalist sect in the United States, a lawyer argued Tuesday at the trial of a former member of the church.
Joe Doyle, who is serving as an amicus curiae or friend of the court to ensure a fair trial, said Crown prosecutors haven’t proven that the girl was in Canada when the leader of the sect called James Oler and allegedly ordered him to bring the child to the United States to get married.
Oler is charged with removing the girl from Canada to marry a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which practises polygamy in Bountiful, B.C., and the United States.
He was acquitted in 2017 by a judge who was not convinced Oler did anything within Canada’s borders to arrange the girl’s transfer to the U.S. But the B.C. Court of Appeal agreed with the Crown that proof of wrongdoing in Canada was not necessary and ordered a new trial.
Oler is self-represented and did not call any witnesses or make a case in his defence.
Article Continued Below
In his closing argument, Doyle argued prosecutors hadn’t accounted for the window when the girl was last seen in Bountiful but then identified by a witness four days later in northern Idaho at a highway rest stop on June 24, 2004.
Doyle raised the possibility that the accused and the girl were potentially already in the United States visiting other communities associated with the fundamentalist sect when Warren Jeffs allegedly called Oler.
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson questioned Doyle’s suggestion that Oler and the girl may have already been in the United States in the four-day window, describing his argument on their movements as “fanciful.”
“Maybe it did — anything can happen,” he added.
Doyle also questioned the credibility of church records seized by U.S. law enforcement officials a decade ago at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas.
The court has heard the girl’s marriage was documented by priesthood records kept by Jeffs, the church’s president and prophet. One priesthood record describes the phone call that Jeffs made to Oler.
Some of the documentation was incomplete and uncertified, which is contrary to the church’s doctrine, Doyle said.
Article Continued Below
“What is not known about these records and is still not known … is which person or persons prepared them, when were they prepared, what information led to their preparation and where that information came from,” he said.
In his closing arguments on Monday, Wilson contended that Oler should have known 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.
Women do not have financial assets and need permission to travel or pursue post-secondary education, former church members told the trial. They were taught that their role within the religion was to be a celestial wife in polygamous marriages and to bear children.
Justice Martha Devlin of the B.C. Supreme Court has reserved her decision and tentatively scheduled a ruling on June 24.