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Polygamy charges thrown out against B.C. religious leaders

Winston Blackmore leaves a press conference in the community of Bountiful near Creston, B.C. January 8, 2009.

JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL

Criminal charges against B.C. religious leaders Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler for polygamy were thrown out of court this morning.

B.C. Supreme Court Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein decided that former attorney-general Wally Oppal did not have the authority to have lawyer Terry Robertson appointed as a special prosecutor after a previous special prosecutor had refused to prosecute the two men.

Mr. Robertson's appointment was contrary to the law and Mr. Robertson's decision to proceed with the prosecution "was therefore unlawful," the judge wrote in a 34-page decision released today.

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The Blackmore-Oler case was anticipated to test Canada's polygamy laws for the first time under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Mr. Blackmore, the former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was charged with being in a polygamous relationship with 19 women. Mr. Oler, another religious leader in the community, faced charges of polygamy for marriage to three women.

Mr. Blackmore has said that he believed the Charter provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion provided protection form criminal charges.

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