Bountiful leader calls polygamy charge 'religious persecution'
The leader of a polygamous sect in Bountiful, B.C., says he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs and politics is behind the decision to charge him with polygamy.
Winston Blackmore said Thursday that by laying a charge against him, the B.C. Crown is attacking all fundamentalist Mormons in the country.
Blackmore and James Oler were charged with one count each on Tuesday of breaching Section 293 of the Criminal Code — which bans polygamy — by entering into a conjugal relationship with more than one individual at a time.
Blackmore read a prepared statement to the media on Thursday at a community school in Bountiful, but he did not answer any questions on the advice of his lawyer.
He acknowledged Canada has a law against polygamy, but he also said his religious ways are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"This is not about polygamy. To us, this is about religious persecution, for persecution has always been about politics," said Blackmore, standing at a podium in a black suit.
"It is therefore no surprise to us that this spectacular, grandstanding event has happened in the face of an up and coming provincial election. I hope this government has calculated all the risks," he said.
Blackmore reportedly fathered 80 children
The charge against Blackmore, 52, is linked to his alleged marriages to 19 women, dating back to May 2005. The charge against Oler, 44, is linked to his marriages to two women, dating back to November 2004.
Blackmore and Oler are scheduled to appear in provincial court in Creston on Jan. 21. The pair were released from custody Tuesday night under several conditions, such as remaining in B.C. and surrendering their passports.
Blackmore, the one-time bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the rural community in B.C.'s Southern Interior, has been reported to have fathered about 80 children by 26 wives, some as young as 15 when he allegedly married them.
In 2003, he and about 1,000 other members of the Bountiful community split from the church after rejecting Warren Jeffs, the church's U.S.-based leader, as a prophet. Jeffs then appointed Oler as his leader in the community.
While the church calls itself the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church, has distanced itself from the polygamous sect. The main Mormon church ended the practice of polygamous marriage in 1890 and eventually adopted a policy of excommunication for those who continued the practice.
- Police and prosecutors allege Winston Blackmore has 19 wives, not 20 as originally reported.Feb 23, 2009 11:05 PM PT