Winston Blackmore at centre of Federal Tax Court fight

Vancouver Sun, Canada/January 24, 2012

Bountiful is not a religious commune and at best one of its leaders, Winston Blackmore, is nothing more than patriarch of a large, polygamous family.

That's what Justice Department lawyers will try to prove over the next three weeks in Federal Tax Court. In 2008, Canada Revenue Agency reassessed five years of Blackmore's personal income tax filings and deter-mined that he underestimated his earnings by $1.5 million.

This is the first time the Federal Tax Court has heard a challenge to Section 143 of the Tax Act, which describes terms such as congregation, community and even what a religion is.

Blackmore and his lawyer argue that the fundamentalist Mormon group fits all of the criteria, and because of that, Blackmore ought to share the tax bur-den of his personal and corporate earnings with others in the community.

But Justice Department lawyer Lynn Burch said in her opening statement that Blackmore and Bountiful fail on every count. They don't all live and work together. There's no doctrinal prohibition on members owning property in their own right. And the members do not devote all of their work and efforts to the common good.

Far from being a congregation as defined by the act, Burch said, "At best the appellant [Blackmore] represents a splinter group of a splinter group.

"He is twice removed from the epis-copal legitimacy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [the main-stream Mormon church] ... his group is not a constituent part of any organized religion."

Blackmore and about 400 residents of Bountiful, B.C. - most of whom are his family members - broke with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or FLDS in 2002. The FLDS itself is a breakaway sect that is not even recognized by main-stream Mormons.

Burch characterized what Blackmore is attempting to do as transferring his tax liabilities to a 'deemed' trust and spreading that burden among the other community members, "in some cases without their knowledge or their consent."

She went on to say that if a religious leader is "described as a shepherd, the role of a good shepherd is to shear the sheep, not skin it."

Blackmore - the first witness - acknowledged that even though he'd paid certified accountants to do his personal and corporate tax filings, he knew nothing about Section 143 until after he was reassessed and he hired Vancouver lawyer David Davies to act for him at the appeal.

As Davies said in his opening statement, "It is not a situation where Mr. Blackmore planned his way into Section 143. It's his way of life."

Davies also pointed out that Black-more was subpoenaed to the trial even though he brought the action. Because of that subpoena, anything Blackmore says in the tax court cannot be used against him in a criminal court. And, that protection may well prove important since last week lawyer Peter Wilson was appointed special prosecutor by B.C.'s attorney-general in its investigation of Bountiful. Wilson will deter-mine whether any criminal charges - other than polygamy - should be laid in the community. Among charges he has been asked to consider are sexual exploitation, sexual abuse of a minor and human trafficking.

Davies led Blackmore through his five years of tax filings and the difference between what Blackmore claimed and what the tax collectors say he owes. In 2001, for example, he claimed $26,500 in employment income and $5,000 in business income. Revenue Canada says what he should have claimed was $527,751. The penalty it assessed for that year alone was $63,999.

During his afternoon testimony, Blackmore explained how fundamentalist Mormons believe that they are the only ones faithful to founder Joseph Smith's revelations related to plural marriage/polygamy and to the "United Order." The mainstream church rejected plural marriage and living communally with shared assets in 1890.

The FLDS set up the United Effort Plan trust in 1943 to hold the group's property and assets. Blackmore became a UEP trustee soon after his father died and he helped his mother "consecrate" or hand over all of his property and assets to the trust.

Despite that, the company his father founded - J. R. Blackmore & Sons - remained outside the trust with Winston Blackmore holding 40 per cent of the shares and three of his brothers holding 20 per cent each. (J.R. Black-more had 30 children.)

The company employs mostly people from Bountiful. It has logging operations, a post and beam mill as well as a farm. At one point during the late 1980s, the company bought a four-seater plane - a Cessna 182. Black-more said it was used for "emergency commuting between Creston, Cran-brook and Sundre [Alberta]."

The plane was crushed in the early 1990s when a heavy snowfall caused the hangar roof to collapse.

Blackmore's testimony continues today, followed by cross-examination. The trial is scheduled for three weeks.

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