Two former leaders of an isolated polygamous community in Canada were convicted Monday of practicing polygamy after a decades-long legal fight, setting up another potential court battle over the constitutionality of Canada's polygamy laws. Winston Blackmore, 60, and James Oler, 53, were found guilty by British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan, who said the evidence was clear that Blackmore was married to 25 women at the same time and that Oler was married to five women in the tiny community of Bountiful, the AP reports. Blackmore never denied having the wives as part of his religious beliefs that call for "celestial" marriages. His lawyer, Blair Suffredine, has already said Blackmore would challenge the constitutionality of Canada's polygamy laws if his client was found guilty.
"I'm guilty of living my religion and that's all I'm saying today because I've never denied that," Blackmore told reporters after the verdict. "Twenty-seven years and tens of millions of dollars later, all we've proved is something we've never denied. I've never denied my faith. This is what we expected." Blackmore and Oler, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect that believes in plural marriage, were prosecuted as part of an investigation first launched in the early 1990s by the provincial government. The group's main base is in a small community on the Utah-Arizona border in the United States, but Oler was chosen to lead the Canadian community years ago. Warren Jeffs still leads the sect from a Texas prison, where he is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.