By Keith Fraser,
January 18, 2011
A man who fled the polygamous community of Bountiful broke down in tears on Tuesday as he described how his mother made him feel he was better off dead.
Truman Oler told the polygamy trial being heard in B.C. Supreme Court that a number of factors led to him deciding in his early 20s to leave the small fundamentalist Mormon community.
He said the FLDS community was in the process of splitting into two competing groups — with his brother and religious leader James Oler on one side, and religious leader Winston Blackmore on the other — and his brother had recently told him he was ready to be placed in marriage.
Attempts at reconciliation with his family have been difficult, especially with his mother, he told B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman.
“One time she told me a story, that one time she had a stillborn child, and it made me feel she wished I was that child,” he said. “I just wish she didn’t have to feel that way at all. If I talk to her, most of the time she treats me as if I am a stranger.”
Oler, a 29-year-old father of two, said he didn’t understand why his mother is so dismissive of him since he’s led an exemplary life.
“I wish there was something I could do, so my mother could see I’m a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. I don’t breach any laws. I help my family.”
Oler was asked by Karen Horsman, a lawyer for the attorney-general’s ministry, why he agreed to become involved in the trial.
“It would be so nice to one day be able to go down to the house that I grew up in and see my family and have them treat me like a son, a brother, a friend.”
At times during his testimony Oler had to pause at length to compose himself, reaching for a Kleenex at one point to wipe away the tears.
Oler, whose father had six wives and 47 children in all, spoke of a community in which the men are often away working for lengthy periods and seldom get a chance to see any of their many children.
“I have a brother who has three wives and I don’t know how many kids. He goes out to work, for months on end and never sees the kids.”
He said the “most important thing in the world” to him is to spend time with his children and give his wife a little break in the day.
“Personally I can’t see why they have so many children if they don’t want to take care of them,” he said of Bountiful.
Oler said boys in the community were told they had to marry a woman at the age of 18 to 20.
“It was the Prophet, the God’s decision. Winston had a lot to do with who married whom.”
He said he spent very little one-on-one time with his mother because there were so many children around.
There was bickering among the various wives and boys were kept apart from girls and taught to believe the girls were like poisonous snakes, he said.
Oler said he dropped out of school after Grade 9, with the attitude being that it was better to put boys to work building posts and poles than have them get an education. Girls would often get placed in marriage after Grade 10, occasionally being pulled out of school to get married and never to return, he said.
Oler said he was put to work for Blackmore when he was 13 years old, earning $20 every second week though he was working full time.
Every male over the age of 18 had to tithe to the church $1,000 every other month, he told the court.
After the split in the community, Blackmore was demoted and thereafter started his own religious meetings, but whole families were divided as they were forced to choose sides, said Oler.
“There were family members on both sides, not talking to each other and not allowed to talk to each other.”
The acrimony seemed contrary to their teachings that they were to love one another and their neighbour and spurred his decision to leave the community, he said.
After his powerful testimony, none of the lawyers opposing polygamy wanted to cross-examine Oler.
George Macintosh, a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the pro-polygamy forces, thanked Oler for his testimony.
The judge has been asked to decide whether the polygamy law is constitutional. The issue was referred to him after James Oler and Blackmore had their polygamy charges stayed in 2009.
James Oler was initially on the witness list but last week the court was told he would not be testifying.
Note from Nancy: Truman Oler’s story is also told in Daphne Braham’s The Secret Lives of Saints: Child brides and lost boys in Canada’s polygamous Mormon Sect.
How it angers me that so many children from Bountiful and U.S. FLDS have been denied a proper education for decades! When will those responsible for the shattered lives of so many people be held accountable for their actions?
Shame on us…shame on us as a society for allowing this to happen!