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Lawyer in Bountiful polygamy case uses gay marriage defence

Laws against polygamy won't stand up against a Charter challenge, he says

If one man can marry another, why can’t a man have 20 wives?

That’s something of the gist of the defence to be used as the case against accused BC polygamists Winston Blackmore and James Oler started to move through BC courts Jan 21.

And, says Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, if the argument has to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, so be it.

The first appearance in Creston, BC Provincial Court lasted less than five minutes.

It was put over to Feb 18 for disclosure of documents.

After that appearance, it could move directly to BC Supreme Court in nearby Cranbrook.

But, Suffredine cautions, that has to wait for the outcome of the pending trial.

The former BC provincial Liberal MLA says he doesn’t want to minimize same-sex marriage through the argument.

“If [gays] can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can’t marry more than one person?” he asks. “How is that going to outlast a Charter challenge?”

He says people need to grasp that society’s standards have changed.

“If a man loves a woman and promises to be faithful to them and take care of them, that’s a crime?” Suffredine asks. “A gay man [marrying] a gay man isn’t a crime anymore.”

BC Attorney General Wally Oppal says some legal experts believe polygamy charges won’t withstand a constitutional challenge in Canada over the issue of freedom of religion.

Oppal said at the time of the arrest that he believes polygamy is an offence in law.

And, he added, if someone says that’s contrary to their religion, then the issue is now up to the courts.

Blackmore and Oler were arrested at their Bountiful, BC commune Jan 7.

Blackmore faces charges of committing polygamy with 20 women, while Oler is accused of committing polygamy with two women.

In a statement issued shortly after his arrest, Blackmore maintains he is the victim of religious persecution.

Oppal, however, holds that the case is about the exploitation of women.

Blackmore was long known as “the Bishop of Bountiful.”

He runs an independent group of about 400 people in the hamlet only hundreds of metres from the US border.

He once ran the Canadian wing of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Latter-day Saints (Mormon) church renounced polygamy in 1890, but several fundamentalist groups left the main church in order to continue the practice.

Michael Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association has called the polygamy provisions of the Criminal Code antiquated. She says she wouldn’t be surprised if it makes it to the Supreme Court.