Polygamist leader's funding request has no precedent, just like his unusual case

Vancouver Sun/March 27, 2010

If Winston Blackmore and his fundamentalist Mormon congregation in Bountiful don't get equal standing with the attorneys-general of B.C. and Canada as well as funding, they will boycott the reference case that will determine whether the anti-polygamy law is constitutional.

Blackmore's application, heard Friday by Chief Justice Robert Bauman of the B.C. Supreme Court, was pointedly and colloquially summarized by three different lawyers.

Blackmore is a narcissist, who believes the constitutional case is all about him. And he is attempting to hold the province and country hostage, according to the lawyers for B.C. and Canada.

Blackmore is broke and distrustful of authority because he's been persecuted, yet eager to ensure that justice is served and his rights protected. That's from his lawyer, Joe Arvay.

What Blackmore is asking for is unprecedented.

Of course, the whole case is unprecedented. It's the first time a Canadian constitutional reference case has been heard by a trial court.

For Blackmore, who is one of two polygamous leaders in the community of about 1,200 in the province's southeastern corner, the outcome will clearly affect him.

But as the governments' lawyers argue, this case isn't just about Blackmore or Bountiful, or even fundamentalist Mormons.

Others clearly agree because the list of interveners includes the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, REAL Women, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund, the Catholic Organization for Life, Stop Polygamy in Canada, Beyond Borders and the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association.

Only Blackmore is insisting that his participation is dependent on being a full party to the case, which would give him the unfettered right to call evidence, cross-examine witnesses and even appeal the final decision. But that's not all. He wants a government-issued blank cheque in advance.

Without that, Blackmore and his approximately 500 followers refuse to be interveners or to cooperate in any way with George McIntosh, the court-appointed "amicus" hired to oppose the two governments' case that the law is constitutional.

McIntosh supported Blackmore's application Friday, calling it "essential" and bolstering Arvay's claim that without Blackmore's participation, justice will be denied to this group, which has long claimed to be persecuted even though they have flourished for more than 60 years.

Yet the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its bishop, James Oler, have signed on as interveners and have hired their own lawyer. The FLDS is the largest polygamous group in North America and its followers comprise more than half of the residents in Bountiful.

So what Bauman has to decide -- he reserved judgment Friday - is whether Blackmore's participation is more critical to the understanding of the practice of polygamy than all of the others.

He needs to determine whether Blackmore and his congregation deserve to have the stature and standing in this case equal to all other Canadians who are represented by the two governments and the amicus. And whether Blackmore can dictate that their lawyer will be Arvay.

If Bauman does agree to that, he must then determine whether the governments will end up writing a cheque that's been estimated at anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars by Arvay to more than a million by Craig Jones of the B.C. attorney-general's ministry.

Arvay argues that Blackmore is "impecunious." In his affidavit, Blackmore states that he has a potential liability of $1.5 million in unpaid personal taxes to Revenue Canada and $2.5 million in unpaid taxes for his company, J.R. Blackmore and Sons.

Blackmore's 2008 tax return shows gross income of $83,220. But even though he says in his affidavit that he has "40 children under 18 who I help to support," his tax return doesn't show any child tax benefits, child-care expenses or support payments.

His affidavit also fails to list the income of his multiple wives because Blackmore has refused to provide income statements for any other members of his family, saying it breaches their privacy.

At one point late in the day, Arvay offered to withdraw his application for federal funding for Blackmore. The federal government's lawyer, Craig Cameron, accepted the offer, then proceeded to outline why Blackmore shouldn't get any funding at all.

Arvay then pulled the offer off the table.

It's a taste of what's to come in this highly unusual case. And the trial date hasn't been set yet.

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