B.C. man accused of polygamy plans defence based on gay-marriage laws

Case held over until Feb. 18 as lawyers gather evidence

Vancouver Sun/January 21, 2009

Creston, British Columbia - The lawyer for one of two B.C. men accused of practising polygamy is planning to invoke Canada's gay marriage laws as part of his defence arguments.

Blair Suffredine, who's representing Bountiful resident Winston Blackmore, says they'll be making the argument that the Canadian definition of marriage, which includes same-sex couples, should then also include multiple partners.

Neither Winston Blackmore, below, nor James Oler, both accused in B.C. court of polygamy, entered a plea in court Wednesday. Their cases have been held over until Feb. 18. Even without having seen the disclosures, Suffredine said his client will plead not guilty and will not dispute most of the evidence. Suffredine also called trial by a Supreme Court justice without a jury is "the most efficient" option and the one his client will likely choose.

The landmark cases against Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, which will determine whether polygamy practised in the name of religion is legal in Canada, began Wednesday.

The charges against the two fundamentalist Mormon men attracted nationwide media attention, prompting RCMP to close the street outside the courthouse to traffic and issue tickets for the tiny courtroom's 50 seats.

Blackmore, the spiritual leader to about 500 people in the community about 700 kilometres east of Vancouver, made it clear after his court appearance that he's not disputing that he is a polygamist.

"I'm no attorney, I'm just a Canadian and I've taken the time last night to review the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, twice . . . Not only our basic Canadian rights, but our equality rights," said Blackmore, who has 19 wives. "And I think if I'm guilty of anything, I'm guilty of being a Canadian and just living my religion."

Special prosecutor Terry Robertson has yet to disclose the Crown's evidence to their lawyers. Robertson promised provincial court Judge Don Carlgren that would be done before Feb. 18, when Blackmore and Oler will be back in court to enter their pleas and elect where and how they want to be tried.

Both men were charged and released after agreeing that they would stay in British Columbia, surrender their passports, report twice a month to RCMP and do not enter into or perform any plural marriages.

Oler, who is charged with having two wives, declined to speak with reporters. His lawyer Robert Wickett to speak to reporters after Wickett had successfully argued to have Oler's bail conditions amended so he can attend to his business in Alberta.

Wickett refused to say what his client might elect to do until after he gets what the Crown's evidence. He also refused to comment when asked whether Oler is a polygamist.

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