Blackmore describes living arrangements with his 21 wives

Globe and Mail, Canada/January 24, 2012

On the stand in federal tax court, Bountiful leader Winston Blackmore confirmed that he had 21 wives, including sisters whom he married on the same day in the same ceremony.

"These are pretty much the list of people who lived with me as wives," Mr. Blackmore said on Tuesday, following a series of questions from a Department of Justice lawyer that outlined the names and home communities of the women to whom Mr. Blackmore was "sealed" in ceremonies sanctioned by leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS.

Those women, and their dozens of children, at some point lived in or near Bountiful, sometimes sharing his home on arrangements worked out among the families, he said. "The mothers pretty much decided that," he said. "They fit themselves where everybody fit best."

Some of the women – about eight or nine, he said – left following a religious split in the community in 2002.

The women were named in a tax proceeding in which the Government of Canada is seeking to prove that Mr. Blackmore, as the patriarch of a large, polygamous family, repeatedly understated his income on tax returns, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars being owed to the government. Mr. Blackmore and his lawyers, relying on provisions of the Income Tax Act that relate to congregations, maintain that Bountiful is a congregation and Mr. Blackmore's tax burden should be shared with the community.

The proceeding, which began Monday, has featured details about Mr. Blackmore's childhood and religious education, the connections between Bountiful and FLDS communities in the United States, and the operations of J.R. Blackmore and Sons Ltd., Bountiful's business arm.

The company has interests in logging, fence-post manufacturing and agriculture.

Mr. Blackmore described a community that shared its belongings, ranging from fruits and vegetables grown in community gardens to chickens raised and processed by community members.

Under questioning from Justice Department lawyer Lynn Burch, Mr. Blackmore conceded to having 47 children between 2000 and 2006, the years being considered in the tax case.

Ms. Burch also questioned Mr. Blackmore about whether having many children was part of FLDS beliefs.

Large families have historically been part of the Mormon faith and children are considered an asset to the family, Mr. Blackmore responded.

"But there's no religious significance to a large family?" Ms. Burch said.

"Not that I know of," Mr. Blackmore responded.

The mainstream Mormon church gave up the practice of polygamy in 1890, but the FLDS still holds it as a tenet of its faith.

The tax case, being heard in Vancouver by Judge Diane Campbell, follows a landmark court reference on the constitutionality of Canada's criminal ban against polygamy.

In that case, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Baumann last November ruled that the law should be upheld.

During that case, the court heard accounts of girls as young as 12 being taken from Canada to the U.S. to marry much older men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, now jailed in Texas for sex crimes involving minors.

The RCMP is investigating those reports. Earlier this month, B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond appointed Vancouver lawyer Peter Wilson as special prosecutor on the Bountiful file, with a mandate to look at potential criminal offences including child sexual exploitation and procurement.

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