B.C. town feels sting of Texas polygamy raids

VANCOUVER — As more than 200 people were bused from a Texas polygamist compound over the weekend after a raid by police, the procession reverberated in the British Columbia town of Bountiful, a polygamous community with ties to the Texas stronghold.

“There are relatives of people in B.C. that would be part of that group down there,” said Linda Price, a retiree from Creston, B.C., who has spent years lobbying against polygamy at Bountiful, a community of about 700 people in southeastern British Columbia, near the United States border.

Another B.C. woman, who is a former member of the Bountiful community, said it’s possible that some of her relatives and their children could be part of the Texas group.

“I’m not even sure – it’s so secretive,” said Jane Blackmore, a Creston resident who was formerly married to Winston Blackmore – the so-called bishop of Bountiful, who has more than 20 wives. Last year, she testified for the prosecution against Warren Jeffs, the founder of the Texas compound, whose clash with Mr. Blackmore precipitated a power struggle in Bountiful.

She had feared her daughter was at the Texas compound until a recent visit in Oklahoma, Ms. Blackmore added.

Mr. Jeffs is currently in jail in Arizona. He was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old, through arranging her marriage to a cousin in 2001, and was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life.

He is awaiting trial on additional charges relating to arranging marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.

The underage marriage question was the catalyst for the raid in Texas.

Authorities descended on the compound, near the town of Eldorado, on Friday after a 16-year-old girl’s report of abuse.

State troopers armed with a search warrant raided the compound, located on a former exotic game ranch, looking for evidence of a marriage between the girl, who allegedly had a baby at 15, and a 50-year-old man.

Yesterday, officials said they had removed 219 people from the compound, in a rural area that now features a massive white temple. The people were bused to nearby churches and civic centres.

Authorities were still trying to find the girl who made the original complaint.

For Ms. Price, the raid renewed her frustration regarding the stalemate at Bountiful, which has come under the microscope for allegations of child abuse, shoddy education and misuse of government funds.

“I think we admire Texas. Because when that compound was built, they [Texan authorities] said all along that girls under 16 are not allowed to be married in Texas,” Ms. Price said.

Last year, after an investigation into allegations of misconduct in Bountiful, special prosecutor Richard Peck recommended that no criminal charges be laid, saying there was not a substantial likelihood of conviction.

But he recommended that Canada’s anti-polygamy law be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal to determine whether it could stand up to a constitutional challenge on grounds of “religious freedom.”

Last September, B.C. Attorney-General Wall Oppal appointed lawyer Leonard Doust to review the special prosecutor’s decision.

Both the Texas compound and Bountiful are home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, which broke away from the Mormon church in the 1930s after the main church turned away from polygamy.

Mr. Jeffs pronounced himself prophet of FLDS in North America in 2002, pushing aside prophet-in-waiting Winston Blackmore and creating a rift in Bountiful and between various branches of the group.

The rift severed family ties, as some members moved to compounds in South Dakota, Texas, Colorado and cut themselves off from relatives in B.C., Ms. Price said.

Even in Bountiful, there are divided loyalties and families.

“It’s like a wall goes up,” Ms. Price said.

“You could be living across the street from your sister or your mother, but if one of you follows one side and one follows the other, you don’t talk.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 7, 2008.
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