B.C. defends its decision to file new polygamy charges against Bountiful leader

VANCOUVER – The B.C. government is defending its right to lay a polygamy charge against the head of a fundamentalist Mormon sect in the province’s southern Interior, say documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

The province previously appointed a series of special prosecutors to pursue a charge against Winston Blackmore, one of the leaders of a fundamentalist splinter community in Bountiful, B.C.

An earlier attempt to prosecute was quashed by the court after Blackmore’s lawyer successfully argued that the government couldn’t keep appointing successive prosecutors until it got the recommendation it wanted.

“(The judge) expressly found that the successive appointment of special prosecutors is authorized … where there has been a change in circumstances,” said the province’s submission filed earlier in April.

The province said it is justified in reopening the case against Blackmore because of new police evidence collected from a fundamentalist ranch in Texas, as well as more constitutional certainty following a 2011 B.C. Supreme Court decision that confirmed polygamy violated the Criminal Code.

Blackmore filed a petition earlier this year to have the court throw out this most recent charge against him, in which special prosecutor Peter Wilson alleges he has 24 wives.

Wilson also recommended a polygamy charge against James Oler, who allegedly has four wives. Oler is also charged along with, Emily Crossfield and Brandon Blackmore with unlawfully removing a child from Canada for sexual purposes.

Marriage certificates obtained from the Yearning For Zion ranch in the southern United States were compared with B.C. birth records to reveal the movement of young girls from Bountiful to be married to older men in American fundamentalist communities, the court documents alleged.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In his petition, Blackmore argued the province’s attorney general acted improperly in its most recent appointment of a special prosecutor.

It’s a similar argument to the one Blackmore’s lawyer made in 2009, when a judge tossed out a polygamy charge because of how the province appointed its special prosecutor.

In 2007, special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded that polygamy was the root cause of Bountiful’s alleged issues. But instead of pressing charges he recommended a constitutional question be referred to the courts to provide more legal clarity.

The province countered by appointing another special prosecutor who laid charges, which were dismissed after Blackmore’s lawyer successfully argued that Peck’s initial decision should be final.

In response to Blackmore’s most recent petition, the province argued that the polygamy judgment has since cleared away the constitutional uncertainty surrounding the practice.

Peck’s decision “cannot reasonably be read as a final determination that no polygamy charges should ever be approved against any member of Bountiful,” said the province in its filed documents.

“Rather, Mr. Peck reasoned that criminal charges should await the outcome of a reference.”

The petition will be heard in Vancouver court on June 8.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

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