Canadian Man with 149 Kids Sentenced to House Arrest: 'I'm Guilty of Living My Religion'

Two former leaders of a fundamentalist religious sect in Canada were sentenced this week to house arrest and probation following their nearly unprecedented convictions on polygamy charges, according to multiple news outlets.

Between them, the men had 29 wives and more than 160 children, France’s AFP reports.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler were each found guilty in British Columbia last July of one count of polygamy, according to the Associated Press. Blackmore has 149 kids, the Canadian Press reports.

On Tuesday Blackmore, 61, was sentenced to a six-month conditional sentence served under house arrest and then a year of probation, the Canadian Press reports. Oler, 53, was ordered to serve a three-months conditional sentence, also under house arrest, followed by a year-long probation.

Blackmore was further sentenced to 150 hours of community service and Oler was sentenced to 75 hours.

They had each faced up to five years in prison.

Prosecutors were not immediately able to comment to PEOPLE on Wednesday. Information for attorneys for both men was also unavailable.

The court reportedly found that Blackmore had 24 wives and Oler had five wives.

They had served as bishops in a branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the isolated community of Bountiful, in southeastern British Columbia. FLDS is a U.S.-based splinter group of the Mormon church that endorses plural marriage.

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Blackmore wed 24 women in so-called “celestial” marriages since 1975, according to Canada’s Global News, and his attorney had argued the relationships were common-law marriages without legal recognition.

Authorities said 10 of Blackmore’s wives were 17 at the time while three were 16 and one was 15, the Global News reported.

Among Oler’s wives, also married in “celestial” unions, was a woman was 15 at the time of their union and another who had just turned 17 when they were married, according to the Canadian Press and the Global News.

Blackmore and Oler are the first Canadians to be found guilty of polygamy since 1906, the CBC reports, and their convictions were at the center of a years-long legal debate in the country about the constitutionality of outlawing polygamy. British Columbia’s Supreme Court upheld such laws in 2011, clearing the way for prosecution after earlier charges were dropped.

In that ruling, the chief justice noted that polygamous women suffered increased instances of abuse as did the children born of those relationships, according to the New York Times.

Winston Blackmore in 2011
Winston Blackmore in 2011

Blackmore did not dispute practicing polygamy, proudly linking it to his faith.

“I’m guilty of living my religion and that’s all I’m saying today because I’ve never denied that,” he said after being convicted last year, according to the AP. “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.”

Not long after the guilty verdicts, one of Blackmore’s daughters defended him on Facebook, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

She wrote in part, “I’m proud of my father and my family and no guilty conviction, or amount of ‘experts’, who have no idea, trying to rescue me from my ‘brainwashed background’ can change one bit of that.”

At the sentencing this week, Justice Sheri Ann Donegan reportedly said she decided on the punishments while balancing their crimes against their otherwise apparently law-abiding lives.

Still, she said of Blackmore, “The concept of remorse is foreign to him in this context.” She said Oler also had “sincerely held religious beliefs instilled in him at an early age.”

Donegan said any punishment was unlikely to act as a deterrent for Blackmore: “He’s made it clear that no sentence will deter him from practicing his faith.”