VANCOUVER (CP) – As legal action in the investigation into a B.C. polygamist commune looms, the province’s attorney-general will be meeting with his Arizona and Utah counterparts next week to discuss the situation in their jurisdictions.
Wally Oppal said the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at the Bountiful commune in southeastern British Columbia is continuing and may yield results soon.
“We are optimistic that something will happen soon,” Oppal said. “We are really concentrating on one area and that is the area of the apparent sexual abuse and the sexual exploitation.”
But, Oppal said, that does not mean the province is not concerned about allegations of polygamy at the commune just south of Creston and only metres from the U.S. border.
People at the commune are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
There have long been allegations of sexual abuse at the commune and rumours of charges against leaders of the community such as Winston Blackmore have long been whispered.
“I don’t think we’re that far away actually. We’ve got our fingers crossed,” Oppal said.
But, Oppal said, the community is tight and getting people to come forward and testify is a major stumbling block.
“Just when we think we’re getting witnesses to come forward and testify we find out that they’re not forthcoming,” he said. “It is somewhat frustrating.”
Oppal will be discussing common problems with polygamist communities with the attorneys general of Arizona and Utah at a meeting in Alaska at the end of next week.
“Hopefully, we can map out some strategy,” he said.
Oppal said there is a high level of public concern about the allegations.
“I get a lot of letters on Bountiful from across the country. There’s no lack of interest as far as the public is concerned and there’s no lack of interest as far as I’m concerned.”
Oppal said he has been invited to Bountiful to see the community for himself.
“I might take them up on that,” he said, “but I don’t know if that would really help me.”
Two months ago, the FBI added Warren Steed Jeffs, the fugitive U.S. leader of the polygamous sect, to its Ten Most Wanted list.
The church is based in the state line communities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah, but it also has a sizeable branch in Bountiful.
Jeffs and Blackmore were involved in a well-publicized split several years ago. As a result of the split, Jeffs stripped Blackmore of his title of bishop of Bountiful.
Jeffs is wanted in Arizona on criminal charges of sexual conduct with a minor and in Utah on a charge of sexual assault as an accomplice.
The 50-year-old has also been accused of arranging marriages between underage girls and older men.
In early May, Blackmore told a newspaper columnist last week that he expected to face charges himself within days.
That hasn’t happened yet, but he said scrutiny on his community has increased, likely because of the hunt for Jeffs.