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Deep background: the who, what, where of Bountiful

A brief history of the FLDS in Canada

Canada’s polygamy capital is not on any maps.

A tranquil farming community snuggles into the shadow of the mist-shrouded Skimmerhorn Mountains southeast of the town of Creston, 800 kilometres east of Vancouver.

The road to Lister, BC — as Bountiful is labelled on Canadian maps — weaves through pavement and dirt routes, cutting across scrub and forest.

The road to the controversy reaches back 169 years to Mormon prophet Joseph A Smith.

He founded the Mormon church on teachings he said were presented to him on gold tablets by the Angel Moroni.

It was from those tablets in 1830 that Smith produced The Book of Mormon, which holds tales of the lost tribes of Israel coming to North America about 600 BC.

To them, America was the land known as Bountiful.

Smith’s most controversial revelation came in 1843. It was then that he announced the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage — which says only men with multiple wives will reach the celestial kingdom for the most righteous.

The mainstream Mormon church officially forsook polygamy in 1890, and by 1910 was excommunicating those who practiced it.

Canada’s centre of Mormonism has long been Cardston, Alberta. It was from that area in 1936 that John Blackmore was elected the first Mormon to Parliament. He was also leader of Canada’s Social Credit Party.

In 1947, he was excommunicated from the Mormon church for teaching polygamy.

In 1952, as an MP, he persuaded the government to amend the anti-polygamy law and remove the words “persons commonly called Mormons” from the definition.

John’s son, Harold, claimed to have had a 1946 dream revelation about a commune for people like him and his family. Within weeks, he visited Creston, BC, and saw the place of which he had dreamed, the spot we now know as Bountiful. He paid $2,000 for 80 acres.

Six years later, his uncle, Joseph Ray Blackmore bought land next to Harold’s and moved in with his two wives.

In 1956, one of his wives gave birth to Winston Blackmore, the future bishop of Bountiful.

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BC flirted with poly charges for 20 years

The case against Winston Blackmore and James Oler is nothing new — BC’s government has been toying with the idea of charging fundementalist Mormons with polygamy for two decades.

Charges were considered in 1992, but officials decided against after concluding that Section 293 of the Criminal Code— the section banning plural marriage — unconstitutionally restricts religious freedom.

“Section 293 is invalid and will not be enforced in BC,” crown counsel Herman Rohrmoser said after nine months of research into the breakaway Mormon sect.

Law enforcement officials were again looking at Bountiful in 2000. That probe started in the US, when Utah’s State Attorney was investigating the movement of young girls between Arizona, Utah and BC.

Bountiful’s leader, Winston Blackmore, said at the time he wasn’t worried.

“We’ve been investigated 49 ways under the sun,” he told the National Post.

He acknowledged under-aged girls had married but had done so with parental consent in line with the law.

RCMP investigators continued to look into charges of polygamy and other offences of a sexual nature.

The latest round, resulting in recently-dismissed criminal charges against Blackmore and James Oler, were submitted by the RCMP to the Crown in late 2006.

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Homo sex at odds with Mormonism

While the controversy over polygamy and same-sex marriage in Canada involves a Mormon splinter sect, both the sect and the larger Mormon Church treat gay sex as a sin.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its fundamentalist brethren (FLDS) have long viewed homosexuality as a problem.

The church says homosexuality “violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purpose of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in saving ordinances of the gospel,” says a 1992 statement from the first presidency of the Mormon church on morality and fidelity.

“Sexual relations are proper only between husband and wife appropriately expressed within the bonds of marriage,” says the statement from the church’s highest governing body.

“Any other sexual contact, including fornication, adultery and homosexual and lesbian behavior, is sinful,” it says.

The statement also says pornography and masturbation almost always accompany homosexual transgressions.

“Pornography is very dangerous and addictive. It includes all forms of entertainment that are vulgar, immoral, or perverse in any way. It may be present in movies, videocassettes, concerts, books, magazines, and other types of media,” the statement says. “Viewing or reading pornography arouses sexual fantasies and urges that lead to deviant behavior.”

They recommend that people with gay thoughts and feelings repress them. Marriage, however, is not suggested as a way of resolving homosexual problems.

While the main Mormon church appears to have a “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach, that of the polygamous FLDS is markedly different.

In her book, The Secret Lives of Saints, Vancouver author Daphne Bramham notes a number of speeches made by current FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.

Homosexuality, Bramham quotes Jeffs as saying in a sermon, is “the worst evil act you can do, next to murder. It is like murder. Whenever people commit that sin, the lord destroys them.”