Exploring polygamy

Author delves into life in Bountiful

B.C. Local News/March 26. 2008

Religious extremism seems worlds away from Victoria.

However, the southern part of our province is a hotbed of religious extremists. A tiny communal town with less than 1,000 people, Bountiful, B.C., is one of North America's well-known settlements for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who openly practice polygamy - the practice of taking multiple wives.

The tiny community recently gained national attention when Utah's Warren Jeffs, the former leader of Mormon fundamentalist polygynist sect who had close ties to the town, was arrested and convicted of being an accomplice to rape after he arranged an extralegal marriage between an adult follower and underage girl.

Winston Blackmore, the leader of Bountiful, B.C., once a follower of Jeffs and close confident, has since denounced the former leader as a "false prophet." Blackmore currently has around 22 wives (at last count) and has allegedly fathered more than 100 children and allegedly impregnated 15 year olds.

Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has been covering Mormonism and polygamy in both Utah and Bountiful for close to five years. She recently released The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in a Polygamous Mormon Sect, an in-depth account of Blackmore's operation and some who have fled faith.

She started writing about Bountiful in 2004 while delving into the issue of human trafficking and met Blackmore in person some two years later.

"He's quite charming and quite funny," said Bramham, who will speak in Victoria April 5. "And like some religious or political leaders, from the moment he meets you he's looking for your weaknesses and looking at ways that he can expose them and exploit them."

In 2004 Bramham was invited by the wives of Bountiful to come and explore the community. But when she arrived, Bramham found the wives mysteriously were unwilling to speak to her.

South of Cranbrook and Creston right beside the Washington State border, Bountiful is a picturesque town. Bramham made several trips there while penning her book and found the men very secretive.

"All the time while I was talking to the women they were always getting phone calls and I presume it was from Winston. Calling them, telling them what to say, the women really become the public face in a way because the men are so scared of being arrested. And these women, they're so well-trained to tell you that they're happy in this sort of sweet way."

A columnist for the Sun since 2000, Bramham also interviewed the 'lost boys', young men who had either been kicked out, or left the sect. Uneducated, untrained and unfamiliar with the outside world, many of the boys fall into deep drug and alcohol addictions.

"The ones who were kicked out really are in no position to be dependable on their own and that's what they're faced with."

Within The Secret Lives of Saints is commentary on why the provincial and federal government seem inept at prosecuting men such as Blackmore.

"I don't believe they should be allowed to continue, it's antithetical to Canadian society. People should be able to practice religion as they choose, but it should not be able to go above and beyond the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

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