3 min

Blackmore seeks funding to challenge polygamy law

'It is in the interests of justice to do so,' says his lawyer

BC polygamous leader Winston Blackmore needs government funding and special standing to take part in a case that will test Canada’s polygamy law, argued his lawyer in court on March 26.

Meanwhile, the provincial attorney general’s laywers told Chief Justice Robert Bauman that Blackmore is a narcissist and believes the polygamy reference coming before the BC Supreme Court is all about him.

Not so, said Blackmore’s lawyer, Joe Arvay, arguing Blackmore needs court standing on par with the federal and attorneys general to ensure his side of the story comes out.

“It is in the interests of justice to do so,” Arvay said.

Indeed, Arvay claimed, the provincial attorney general has said it wanted to put a human face on polygamy for the reference.

“That human face is Mr Blackmore,” Arvay said.

And, while he acknowledged there are other groups with an interest in the reference outcome, Arvay said the reference is “about the FLDS and Mr Blackmore.”

Blackmore and Oler are rival leaders of two separate factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ (FLDS) commune in Bountiful in southeastern BC.

They were arrested on Jan 7, 2009, and charged with one count each of polygamy.

The charges were quashed in September 2009 when a BC Supreme Court justice accepted Blackmore’s argument that the province had gone special prosecutor “shopping” to find someone who would lay charges.

The reference was requested by the provincial government to determine whether Section 293 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws polygamy, is constitutional or not.

Arvay told Bauman that Blackmore’s voice is one of many that needs to be heard in the reference, the first of its kind to be heard in a trial court in Canada.

The March 26 hearing was rife with references to high-profile queer cases — among them the Little Sister’s-Canada Customs book seizure case, the Cynthia Maughan versus UBC case on discrimination around a transgressive literature course and the same-sex marriage reference.

In the Maughan case, Arvay referred to a section of a ruling addressing Maughan’s application for costs.

In such a case, there is something to be said for requiring the government to fund the litigation, since it initiated the suit with a view to testing its own law for the benefit of the public, the decision says.

Arvay says the situation is a test case and Blackmore should have the right to the counsel of his choice.

“Mr Blackmore believes he has been persecuted by the state,” Arvay said. “They are a community that has been under attack.”

Indeed, myriad groups have come forward as interveners in the case, including polyamorous groups, many drawn from the queer community.

That list of interveners includes the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, the BC Civil Liberties Association, REAL Women, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund, the Catholic Organization for Life, Stop Polygamy in Canada, and Beyond Borders.

As such, the governments’ lawyers argue, the case isn’t just about Blackmore or Bountiful, or even fundamentalist Mormons, no matter what side of the US-Canadian border they’re on.

However, none of the interveners has applied for funding to mount the case as Blackmore has.

What’s more, the attorneys general say Blackmore should be content to accept similar status.

Indeed, it’s a status Oler has accepted.

However, Blackmore won’t. Arvay said Blackmore would boycott the case and not testify. That led to accusations from the government attorneys that the religious leader was attempting to hold the court hostage.

So, it leaves Justice Baumann to decide if Blackmore’s testimony is more vital to the case than that of the interveners.

When that decision comes, though, is unknown, as the judge reserved decision.

And, when the case itself gets underway at an as-yet-unknown date, the BC attorney general will call a host of witnesses, said lawyer Craig Jones.

Those will include experts in evolutionary psychology, economics, sociology and anthropology.

Jones said the practice results in community gender imbalances.

“Polygamy must necessarily lead to child brides . . . and an increasing sexualization and recruitment of child brides,” he said.

Further he said, with excess young males ejected from the FLDS society, there are corresponding increases in crime, rape, prostitution and sex trafficking.

“Every plural wife as a matter of fact will produce a child bride or a lost boy,” Jones said.