Aug 25, 2017

Winston Blackmore gets pass to travel to U.S. for fellow polygamist's funeral


DAPHNE BRAMHAM
Vancouver Sun
August 25, 2017

If polygamist Winston Blackmore believes he’s invincible, the Canadian court system hasn’t exactly done a lot to prove him wrong.

On Saturday, Blackmore had planned to officiate at a cousin’s funeral in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ chapel in Hurricane, Utah.

(And yes, you read that right. Canada’s best-known fundamentalist Mormon was supposed to have been officiating at another polygamist’s funeral in a mainstream Mormon chapel. But we’ll come back to that.)

Blackmore is out on bail, pending sentencing. He was found guilty last month of having 24 wives — half of whom are American and 10 were under 18 when they were married. A conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Dev Dley amended Blackmore’s bail conditions. While it’s up to judges to set bail conditions based on the recommendations of both the defence and prosecution, Dley (who was filling in for the trial judge who wasn’t available Monday) punted the decision to the RCMP.

Dley’s order essentially said it was OK for Blackmore to travel to the US for the funeral, as long as the RCMP wrote a permission note. The RCMP declined to comment on whether a note had been provided.

Regardless, there’s a very good chance that the Americans won’t let Blackmore cross the border. A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection couldn’t comment specifically on Blackmore because of privacy laws.

However, Jason Givens did say in an email: “Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, polygamy is considered to be a crime involving moral turpitude. A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude will render an individual inadmissible to the United States.”

Blackmore is challenging the constitutionality of the polygamy law and has not been convicted.

All of this just adds to so much that’s already odd about this case that has taken more than 20 years to get to a verdict, that depended heavily on evidence collected in Texas.

Blackmore already had laxer bail conditions than James Oler, his co-defendant who is also awaiting sentencing. Unlike Oler, Blackmore was allowed to keep his passport during the trial.

Also, Blackmore’s bail conditions have been loosened to expand his range beyond British Columbia and Alberta to include Saskatchewan.

Yet Blackmore has always seemed the more likely of the two to follow in the grand tradition of fundamentalist Mormons fleeing polygamy charges and convictions by disappearing across the border.

He has several wives living in the US, including in the Hurricane area, and the American subsidiary of his company, J.R. Blackmore and Sons, owns two airplanes.

Besides, he’s always framed RCMP investigations into the community of Bountiful, B.C. and him in particular as “political persecution.”

In fact, the purpose of Monday’s meeting with the judge was not primarily to change his bail conditions. Rather, it was to set a date for three days of hearings on Blackmore’s application to challenge the constitutionality of the polygamy law before his sentencing. However, with the trial judge absent, that decision has been put off until Aug. 29.

Beyond the legal morass, Blackmore’s planned trip to Hurricane highlights a long-standing religious one as well.

For all that the Mormon hierarchy insists that polygamy is long in its past, extinguished by its prophet’s 1890 Manifesto, there remains enough fellow-feeling that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in Hurricane initially agreed to let the convicted polygamist officiate at the funeral of another polygamist within their sanctuary.

It seemed extraordinary since the LDS Church sued Blackmore in 2014 for having stolen its name and incorporated it in British Columbia as his sect’s own.

In its suit, the LDS Church claimed that Blackmore’s group had “generated notoriety and controversy in British Columbia and elsewhere” because of its “activities and tenets.”

Among those listed were: the practice defence and promotion of polygamy, marriage of underage girls, trafficking in women, forced marriages and “turning out of the community young men or boys who have few or no skills, no support and little education.”

So, I called the LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City on Thursday to find out why the funeral for Arthur Blackmore, the son of Bountiful’s founder with three wives and 32 children, was being held in an LDS Church chapel.

A few hours later, spokesman Eric Hawkins said the funeral will not be held there after all. When local leaders agreed that the chapel could be used, Hawkins said, they “did not understand the situation.”

Ordinarily, he said the LDS Church allows other religious and community groups to use its venues. But this is different. The mainstream church has worked too hard to distance itself from polygamy to risk any confusion about where it stands now.

If Winston Blackmore does make it across the border, the funeral should be an interesting family reunion because not only does Arthur have a son named Winston, he has a daughter named Carolyn Jessop. She is one of North America’s most outspoken opponents of polygamy and, among the numerous trials she has testified at, was the constitutional reference case held in B.C. Supreme Court in 2011.

dbramham@postmedia.com

twitter.com/daphnebramham

http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/polygamist-winston-blackmore-gets-pass-to-travel-to-us-for-fellow-polygamists-funeral-subject-to-rcmp-approval

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