'It needs to be stopped': Bountiful, B.C., leader's ex-wife welcomes polygamy ruling

The first wife of Bountiful, B.C., leader Winston Blackmore says Friday's ruling upholding his polygamy conviction was "a long time coming."
Jane Blackmore, pictured here in 2007, was the only of Winston Blackmore's more than two dozen wives to testify against him in court. (Trent Nelson/Reuters)
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Story transcript

Jane Blackmore says Friday's ruling upholding her ex-husband's polygamy conviction was "a long time coming."

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Canada's polygamy laws are constitutional, rejecting the argument from Bountiful, B.C., polygamists Winston Blackmore and James Oler, who claimed the law violated their charter rights.

Jane Blackmore was Winston Blackmore's first wife of more than two dozen — and the only one who testified against him court. She married him when she was 18. They have seven children together, and 46 grandchildren.

She was also Bountiful's midwife. Oler is her half-brother. 

She left the fundamentalist Christian polygamist community in 2003 and fled to Cranbrook, B.C., where As It Happens host Carol Off reached her Friday.

Here is part of their conversation.

Did you think that you would see this day?

I was definitely doubtful. 

I'm 61 years old and the controversy regarding polygamy and the community of Bountiful has been my whole life.

Why did you agree to testify against Winston Blackmore?

I was subpoenaed — but obviously I couldn't have been forced to talk about my former partner.

But I felt like it was important to speak my truth.

I was convinced many years ago that I didn't believe in what was going on and felt it was wrong. Many people, especially women and children, were being hurt and I feel like it needs to be stopped.

Winston Blackmore, left, and James Oler were each charged with one count of polygamy. Their convictions were upheld on Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

How difficult was that to you to testify, to speak truth to that?

It was extremely difficult. I've done many difficult things in my life. That was among them, for sure.

What was the big motivator?

During my life, I've been in a position where I had the confidence and the responsibility of caring for women, and during my time in the community, I felt like my hands were tied.

I could see many, many difficult situations women were in. And in the position I was in, with being the first wife of the leader of the community, and caregiver for many women in the community, I didn't feel like I could protect them.

I would definitely like for future generations to have a choice with what they believe, what they read, what they wear, who they marry, what kind of education they receive.- Jane Blackmore , former Bountiful resident 

So you did it for them. You did it for those women that you couldn't help for so many years — the other wives of your former partner — you did it for them.

I felt like I was doing it for them, and doing it for me, and doing it for my daughters, my sons.

Why did you finally leave? 

I had a nine-year-old daughter. I felt like if I waited any longer it would be more difficult for me to protect her and provide a life for her that I felt I wanted, and for myself.

I was just desperate to not feel responsible for what was going on for women and children in the community.

Were your other daughters married off?

I have two older daughters and they were married when they were just barely, barely 17.

What was like that for you to see that?

I was fortunate in the fact that my older daughters were not married into polygamous families, but they were young and, you know, their marriages were arranged.

They weren't old enough. They didn't have an education. They didn't have the wherewithal to make a different life for themselves should they choose to in the community.

It must have been so difficult.

You don't even know.

Blackmore shares a laugh with six of his daughters and some of his grandchildren Monday, April 21, 2008, near Creston, B.C. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Judge [Sheri Ann] Donegan, during the conviction of Mr. Blackmore, she said that your testimony was so credible that, and this is a quote, "There was nothing contrived or rehearsed in her answers. She was impartial." That you gave you testimony in such a style that was so convincing it had a great effect on the judge and on her decision. 

What did you want the court [and] public to know about your life in Bountiful and the life of your children?

I hadn't heard that until now, what the judge had said. That [is] very empowering, really, to hear that. 

I just want choices for people. I want choices for my children, for my grandchildren. 

In the course of my life there, I was being asked to do things that I couldn't do, I wouldn't do because I felt the desire and the conviction that I was responsible for what I did.

That in itself gives me courage and the strength to make changes and do what I've done.

Two young girls of the polygamous community of Bountiful walk past the mountains in April 2008. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

What do you want to happen now?

I would definitely like for future generations to have a choice with what they believe, what they read, what they wear, who they marry, what kind of education they receive.

I want young people not to feel like they have an obligation to a leader, to a church, to a community to live their life as they're being asked to live it as opposed to how they would like to live it.

Does any of this give you any satisfaction?

I'm relieved. I hope that there's some definite progress in the way that the future unfolds for the people of the Bountiful community.

And for your children and grandchildren?

Definitely for them.

Did you do it for them?

I did. I did.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our interview with Jane Blackmore in the player above.