Apr 14, 2016

Daphne Bramham: Polygamists thrive even though polygamy is illegal

Edmonton Journal
April 13, 2016

A photo of 124 of Winston Blackmore's 145 children. Handout photo for Daphne Bramham column on April 14.
A photo of 124 of Winston Blackmore's 145 children.
There’s something so nutty about the polygamous, fundamentalist Mormon communities in Canada and the United States that it’s easy to dismiss it all as a bad tabloid joke.

It is incomprehensible to most of us that anyone — even Canada’s best-known polygamist Winston Blackmore — could have 145 children. But the 59-year-old does. The latest addition to the family was born earlier this month.

Siring so many offspring requires many wives, which he’s had. There were 24 listed on the 2014 indictment on one count of polygamy. Some left him and the community of Bountiful, B.C. before he was charged. Others have taken their places.

It bears repeating that polygamy is illegal in Canada and the United States. It was upheld here in 2011. This week, a U.S. federal appeal court upheld the American law in a decision ruling against Kody Brown and his wives from the TV show, Sister Wives.

But it’s not just the number of wives and children that’s startling. In a Utah courtroom in 2014, Blackmore admitted under oath that 10 of his 24 “wives” were under the age of 18.

Blackmore has also admitted that several of his wives were only 15 and 16 years old when they married in religious ceremonies, including at the polygamy summit he organized in 2005. There, Blackmore also said that one of his sons had married a 14-year-old.

Despite that, Blackmore has never been charged with sexual exploitation even though at the time of those marriages, Blackmore held several positions of trust and authority.

He was the bishop, head of the independent school’s society, Bountiful’s major employer and de facto landlord for the many families living on property owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Twice, he’s been charged with a single count of polygamy. The first charge was dropped in 2009 after a judge agreed with Blackmore that the special prosecutor who recommended the charge had been improperly appointed.

Blackmore was charged again in 2014. He made the same argument about an improperly appointed special prosecutor and lost. He appealed and, four months after the B.C. Court of Appeal heard the case, there’s still no decision.

Three other people from Bountiful were also charged in 2014 and will go to trial this fall on more serious offences.

James Oler, another former FLDS bishop, is charged with one count of polygamy and one count of unlawful removal of a child from Canada. Oler is alleged to have taken one of his under-aged daughters to the United States to be “married” to another FLDS man.

Blackmore’s brother, Brandon, and one of Brandon’s wives, Emily Ruth Crossfield are also charged with unlawful removal of one of their daughters.

Aside from the price paid by the young women and children in the largely unfettered religious community, citizens are subsidizing these extraordinarily large and complicated families.

Tens of thousands of dollars flow into the Blackmore family coffers in child benefits.

When the Conservative government sent out cheques for the Universal Child Care Benefit last year, a rough calculation of how much the Blackmore family might have been eligible for was $43,160. At that point, Blackmore had 133 children (124 of them are shown in the accompanying photo, which was taken around that time.)

Then, there’s the $637,607 the province provided to the Blackmore-run independent school called Mormon Hills, which has 132 students (mostly Blackmore’s children, grandchildren and other relatives).

Blackmore founded Mormon Hills in 2003 after he was excommunicated from the FLDS, which split the Bountiful community of roughly 1,500 in two.

In 2012, the FLDS school — Bountiful Elementary Secondary School, which received $1.2 million in government support the previous year — abruptly closed. The order came from prophet Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in Texas for the rape of two of his child brides aged 12 and 15.

Since that school’s closure, it’s unclear whether any of the 257 students transferred to other schools or what kind of home-schooling they might be receiving.

So far, however, there’s no evidence of the kind of money laundering and fraud alleged in the United States, where 11 FLDS members have been arrested in the last three months in a scheme that investigators say involved more than $12-million worth of food stamps. Among those charged are two of Jeffs’s brothers — Lyle and Seth, who heads the community in Pringle, South Dakota.

Nutty? Yes. But that doesn’t explain why politicians and prosecutors here have been so slow to deal with it.



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