'I am what I am,' says accused polygamist

Canwest News Service, Canada/January 8, 2009

Creston, B.C. - Winston Blackmore, one of two men from a B.C. Mormon colony charged with polygamy, shot back Thursday that the charges against them are an attack on religious freedoms and accused the B.C. government of grandstanding as a provincial election looms later in the year.

"I am what I am, we are what we are. We are descended from a long line of Mormon-believing people," Mr. Blackmore, 52, said in a statement to reporters at the Mormon Hills elementary school near Creston, B.C.

"My family did not make up our faith nor did we establish the fundamental teachings of Mormonism."

Another colony resident, James Oler, 44, was also charged but was not at the news conference.

"Canada also has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees every person the right to live their religion, and I guess now, every person except those of us who are fundamentalist believing and practising Mormons,"said Blackmore who, over the years, has made no secret of his multiple marriages.

The polygamist colony at nearby Bountiful, B.C., has been investigated for decades by successive B.C. governments on allegations of sex abuse because of their practice of multiple brides, some of whom are 15 and 16 years old. It was only Wednesday that charges were finally laid.

"This is not about polygamy. Tens of thousands of polygamists among many different cultures are hiding in plain sight all across Canada," added Mr. Blackmore.

"They are known by their neighbours, policemen, legislators and media just as we are . . . But they are not fundamentalist Mormons! To us this is about religious persecution. Persecution has always been about politics."

Mr. Blackmore then took a dig at the B.C. Liberal government which faces the electorate in the spring. "Whatever else is involved with it, it is still about politics. It is therefore no surprise to us that this spectacular grandstanding event has happened in the face of an up-and-coming provincial election. I hope this government has calculated all the risks."

Several special prosecutors to the B.C. government over the years have recommended against charging the sect with polygamy on the basis that the charges could fail because of freedom of worship provisions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Police have also admitted that despite interviewing hundreds of people in B.C. and across the western United States, they have not been able to find enough people wiling to testify to build a case on sexual abuse.

Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Oler are scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Cranbrook, B.C., on Jan. 21 to answer the charges.

Mr. Blackmore has had 26 wives and has more than 100 children. He was the bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints until he was ousted by Warren Jeffs, the sect's prophet who has been convicted of being an accomplice to the rape of a minor in Utah and is currently in jail in Arizona facing similar charges there.

"Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour. He has taught us, and I have taught my children that they should pray for their enemies as well as their friends,"said Blackmore. "That is what we will continue to do."

Mr. Blackmore, citing legal advice, did not field questions.

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