Winston Blackmore has at least 20 wives and more than 100 children. Allegedly one or more of his wives married at age 15.
The leader of Canada’s largest polygamist group, Winston Blackmore, believes that within days he will be charged with sexual offences.
“We have one very reliable source that indicates that it will happen.” Blackmore said in an e-mail.
For nearly two years, the RCMP has been investigating allegations that fundamentalist Mormon leaders, including 49-year-old Blackmore, have been sexually exploiting girls as young as 14 by either assigning them as plural wives to other men or taking them for themselves.
Among the pieces of evidence the RCMP collected are the birth records from Bountiful’s midwifery clinic and birth certificates that have been signed by both parents.
If Blackmore is charged, he will be the second polygamist leader to be charged in North America this year with sexual offences. Warren Jeffs has been charged in Utah and Arizona for arranging the marriages of underage girls to older, married men and is on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list for evading prosecution.
Jeffs and Blackmore are acquaintances, if not friends.
Blackmore was bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Canada until Jeffs muscled him and others out of the way to become prophet in September 2002. Jeffs then excommunicated Blackmore, splitting the community of Bountiful nearly in half — about 700 people continue to follow Blackmore, while about 500 follow Jeffs.
Allegations of sexual abuse in Bountiful haven’t just come from people who have left the community or outsiders tired of seeing very young girls with their babies and shocked by teen pregnancy rates that are at least seven times higher than elsewhere in the province.
Last year at the so-called polygamy summit his wives organized in Creston, Blackmore admitted, “I have married several very young girls in my life.”
He has more than 20 wives and 100-plus children.
Jane Blackmore — Winston’s ex-wife and the former midwife for all of Bountiful — says that the youngest girl she knows of was 14.
“There weren’t many 14-year-olds,” she said in an interview. “But there were lots who were married at 15.”
At a conference in Winnipeg in early 2005, another of Blackmore’s wives, Zelpha Chatwin, said Blackmore had married at least one girl who was 15.
“To her, she wasn’t a child. But it was hard for her. It was hard for us,” said Chatwin. (She is currently under a deportation order from Canada along with her sister, Marsha. The sisters who married Blackmore on the same day have been staying here on visitors’ visas. They have 11 children between them.)
At the conference, Chatwin contended Blackmore had done nothing wrong, since the age for sexual consent in Canada is 14.
But the Criminal Code’s section on sexual exploitation says that anyone in a position of power or trust who has sex with a person under 18 is guilty of an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
Yet while Blackmore and his followers are openly talking about the prospect of charges, RCMP spokesman John Ward will only say that the investigation is ongoing.
Stan Lowe said the criminal justice branch of the B.C. attorney-general’s office hasn’t had a report from the RCMP yet.
But Attorney-General Wally Oppal said last week that the Mounties are wrapping up their investigation.
“They tell me that something will be coming down one way or the other within a few weeks,” Oppal said.
He couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. But what he has said about Bountiful in the past is that he is concerned about the sexual abuse of women and girls. While he’s less concerned about prosecuting polygamy under the Criminal Code than any sexual offences, Oppal has said he would not shy away from adding polygamy charges.
Blackmore has always contended that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects his right to practise polygamy, which is a fundamental tenet of his religion. Oppal’s predecessors also believed that. But not Oppal.
If Blackmore — a self-described fundamentalist Mormon — is charged, it will be more hard news for the mainstream Mormon church.
In the wake of nearly hour-to-hour television coverage of polygamy since the FBI listed Jeffs as one of their 10 most wanted, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put out a press release this week stating that there is no such thing as a fundamentalist Mormon or a Mormon sect. The mainstream church, which outlawed polygamy in 1890, said Mormon only applies to its members.
But charges can’t come soon enough for Audrey Vance, co-chairwoman of a Creston group that has been pushing the government to do something.
“Our government has ignored this for years,” she said. “They should have stopped it a long time ago. They knew this was going on and for a long, long time they did nothing.”
Jane Blackmore didn’t know that her ex-husband expects to be charged.
When told she said simply: “I think people need to be responsible for what they do and take responsibility for what they do.”
May 12, 2006