Polygamist leader suing B.C. government

Winston Blackmore says rights were violated

The Globe and Mail, Canada/January 13, 2010

By James Keller

Vancouver, B.C. - Winston Blackmore, the leader of a polygamous community in southeastern British Columbia who has admitted to having multiple wives, is suing the provincial government for violating his rights when he was charged last year.

Mr. Blackmore and James Oler, both leaders of separate factions in Bountiful, B.C., were arrested in January 2009 and each charged with practising polygamy, two decades after police first starting looking into the community near the United States border.

The charges were thrown out last fall after the men's lawyers successfully argued in court that the decision of a previous special prosecutor not to lay charges was final.

"The [attorney general] acted in a manner that was high handed, arbitrary, reckless, abusive, improper and inconsistent with the honour of the Crown and the administration of justice," says a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Before the pair were arrested, two separate legal experts, including a special prosecutor, recommended against charges, instead recommending authorities first ask the court to determine whether such a case could withstand a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 2008, then-attorney general Wally Oppal appointed another special prosecutor, Terry Robertson, who ultimately decided to charge the men.

"The [attorney general] intended to create an illusion that the decision to prosecute was that of the special prosecutor," says the statement of claim.

"In fact, the [attorney general] only accepted Mr. Robertson's decision because it reflected the result he personally sought."

The lawsuit, which contains allegations that haven't been tested in court, says Mr. Blackmore has suffered mental distress, anxiety and public embarrassment, and it asks for unspecified damages and legal costs.

Shawn Robins, spokesman for current Attorney General Mike de Jong, said the ministry was reviewing the statement of claim.

"We're aware he's filed, we will receive a copy of the filing, we will review it and we will respond accordingly," Robins said in an interview Wednesday.

Last October, de Jong announced the government would ask the B.C. Supreme Court for an opinion on whether the federal law barring multiple marriage violates the religious protections under the charter.

Mr. Oppal, who left politics last year after he was narrowly defeated in a provincial election, declined to comment.

Mr. Blackmore did not respond to an email seeking comment, and he hadn't mentioned the lawsuit on his blog, where he regularly offers advice and answers questions he says are from readers.

Last week, he posted an entry marking the one-year anniversary of his arrest.

"It was a long day - a long week, a long month, a long year," says the posting, which is dated last Friday.

"To top it all off, the government thinks that I should pay for it all while Wally gets a pension!"

Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Oler are leaders of two separate factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon Church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Mr. Blackmore is reported to have more than 100 children.

The RCMP first investigated the community in 1990, and there have been subsequent investigations into allegations including polygamy, sexual abuse, and trafficking young girls to sister polygamous communities in the U.S. to be married.

But prosecutors repeatedly shied away from laying charges.

The RCMP opened a new investigation in 2005, and the force recommended charges against Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Oler in 2007.

Mr. Oppal then appointed the first special prosecutor, Richard Peck, to review the recommendation. He recommended asking the court to review the polygamy law.

Mr. Oppal then asked another lawyer, Len Doust, to review that decision. Mr. Doust agreed with Mr. Peck, and the men were arrested and charged.

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