By Danya Hajjaji
TORONTO (Reuters) – Two British Columbia men were sentenced to house arrest on Tuesday for having multiple wives, marking Canada’s first convictions for polygamy in more than a century, according to a report by CBC News.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler were sentenced to six and three months of house arrest, respectfully, according to the report. They were convicted on one count of polygamy each last July.
Both men are former bishops of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect within Bountiful, a religious community in southeastern British Columbia.
A lawyer representing the two men was not immediately available for comment.
Blackmore married 24 women between 1990 and 2014, according to court documents. Canadian media reported that he has fathered at least 146 children.
Oler wed five women between 1993 and 2009, according to court documents.
According to the CBC, Blackmore will serve his time in his Bountiful home with allowances to go to work and medical emergencies. Oler will be under house arrest in Alberta, where he lives.
Their sentences will be followed by 12 months probation, with 150 hours of community service for Blackmore and 75 hours for Oler, the CBC reported.
Under Canadian law, the maximum penalty for polygamy is five years in jail.
The men previously entered not guilty pleas, with Blackmore’s defense counsel arguing that the polygamy law violated Bountiful community members’ religious rights.
Under Canada’s century-old polygamy law, the British Columbia government has been weighing prosecution since the early 1990s against members of the Bountiful community of 1,500 residents.
Despite multiple police investigations into claims of abuse in the community, it had declined to pursue polygamy charges because of concerns that doing so would violate constitutional freedom of religion.
In 2011, the British Columbia Supreme Court affirmed that laws banning polygamy were constitutional and did not violate religious freedom.
The mainstream Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy in 1890. The church sued Blackmore in 2014 for using its trademarked name, citing damaged reputation.
(Reporting by Danya Hajjaji)