Aug 6, 2015

Daphne Bramham: Polygamist big winner in feds' pre-election childcare payout

Daphne Bramham
Vancouver Sun
August 4, 2015

There may have been no bigger winner than polygamist Winston Blackmore last month when the Canadian government sent out cheques for the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit.

Blackmore, who is awaiting trial on a single criminal charge of polygamy, has 133 children ranging in age from babies to adults.

For every child under the age of six, Canadian parents received $520, and for every child aged seven to 18, they received $420, with no restrictions on how the money could be spent.

Using the best information available from several sources, the 58-year-old fundamentalist Mormon leader has as many as 98 children who are 18 or younger, and as many as 20 of those are seven and younger.

What makes it easier to determine the Blackmore children’s ages is that his offspring were often given names that started with a specific letter of the alphabet depending on which year they were born. There was the year when most (if not all) had names starting with O. Other years, there were the Rs, the Ms, the Ns, the Ps, followed by the As, then the Ws (although, surprisingly, no Winston), the Ss and the Hs.

Do the arithmetic of 20 children under seven and 78 between the ages of seven and 18 and it adds up to a $43,160 payday for Blackmore and his wives.

Of course, the childcare benefit is taxable. But the Conservative government have also introduced income splitting for families.

Even for conventional families with only two parents, it is difficult to estimate the dollar value of that benefit. But there is no reason to believe that Blackmore would not be able to take full advantage of sharing the tax burden among his wives.

And heaven knows, Blackmore has no shortage of wives. There were 24 listed on Blackmore’s indictment on the polygamy charge.

All of which could add up to another big mess for the folks at the Canada Revenue Agency to sort out the hows and what-ifs of income-splitting in this family.

It was only last September that the Federal Court of Appeal finally ended Blackmore’s long-running tax case. The unanimous decision was that Blackmore had understated his income by approximately $1.8 million over a six-year period that began in 2000. In one year alone, a Federal Tax Court judge said Blackmore understated his income and benefits by an “astronomical” 1,326 per cent.

Both the tax court and the appeal court rejected Blackmore’s contention that he and his congregation of close to 500 people (mostly family) were eligible to be taxed as a commune.

On Aug. 20, Blackmore will be back in B.C. Provincial Court in Creston to fix a date for his criminal trial on a single count of polygamy. Blackmore has attempted to have the charge quashed on the basis that the special prosecutor had been improperly appointed, a claim rejected by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in June.

Another former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, James Oler, will also be in Provincial Court in Creston on Aug. 20. He is charged with one count of polygamy, with four wives named on the indictment, as well as one count of transporting a child under the age of 16, a daughter, for an illegal purpose — a religious marriage in the United States.

Blackmore’s brother, Brandon, will be in B.C. Supreme Court in Cranbrook on Aug. 13. Brandon Blackmore and one of his wives, Emily Crossfield, are also charged with transporting one of their under-aged daughters to the U.S. to be married.

It is almost certain that the Conservatives would not have even thought of polygamous families before they made the $3-billion, “family-friendly” childcare announcement last month.

They did, after all, make child trafficking a criminal offence and increase the penalties.

But the Conservatives (like most other politicians) have been less clear on where they stand on religious-based polygamy. Because opposing it means accepting the B.C. Supreme Court’s conclusion that even religious freedom has its limits — a conclusion that at least some voters might find hard to accept.