B.C. polygamist Winston Blackmore has a church and doesn't have a church, he testified in a landmark case in Tax Court of Canada on Wednesday.
Whether trying to finely slice nuances of his words or merely playing word games, Black-more managed to frustrate not only the government lawyer cross-examining him on his tax returns but also the judge who will end up deciding the case.
Blackmore is appealing an audit by the Canada Revenue Agency that found he under-reported his income by $1.5 million from 2000 to 2004 and in 2006.
Formerly a powerful bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Blackmore calculated his taxes by dividing the income earned by the prosperous community equally among the 400 or more residents of the Bountiful commune.
But government lawyer Lynn Burch is arguing he and his followers in the Creston Valley community are not a congregation, as defined by the Tax Act, so Blackmore's meagre income, reported on his tax returns, was under-reported.
The court heard a lengthy history of the FLDS and the schism in 2002 between Black-more and disgraced FLDS president Warren Jeffs, which resulted in Blackmore being excommunicated.
Half the population of Bountiful, including nine of Blackmore's 22 wives, began following the new FLDS leader in their community, James Oler, while the other half stayed true to Blackmore.
"Do you hold yourself out to be a prophet?" Burch asked Black-more, on his third day in the witness box.
"Not the prophet," he replied with a slight smile.
Burch repeated the question a number of times, but each time Blackmore insisted on answering in a qualified way.
Finally, Justice Diane Camp-bell interrupted Blackmore, strongly urging him to answer yes or no.
"No," he replied softly, after a long pause.
But Burch became increasingly exasperated as Black-more tried dodging her next line of questions about whether he has a church.
He finally answered, "I have a church congregation, so I have a church."
Later, under more questioning, he said, "I don't have a church."
His cross-examination continues today.