Polygamist sect leader Winston Blackmore is in Canada’s Federal Court, fighting the taxman who says he owes as much as $4.3 million in unpaid personal income taxes, business income and GST.
Blackmore is arguing through his lawyers that he is the leader of an organized religion that holds all property in common.
A high-flying businessman with logging, manufacturing and farming interests, who owns or leases many vehicles and even an airplane, Blackmore recently pleaded poverty and the inability to pay his legal fees in a separate court matter. That court ruled he could afford to pay his own legal fees.
The CRA audited Blackmore’s books, then issued reassessment notices for his tax filings in the years 2000 to 2004, and 2006.
On Monday, Blackmore was appealing those notices, alternately quoting from the Bible, then reeling off a long list of the business interests of Bountiful’s J.R. Blackmore and Sons.
Blackmore’s polygamous community is an offshoot of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) [See: Polygamy Leadership Tree]
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 episcopal 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.
Blackmore testified that he is the appointed leader of a religious congregation in Bountiful, a position he claims can be traced back through six succeeding appointments all the way to Mormon founder Joseph Smith.
“Basically in my role, I was in charge of my community, I was the presiding member of the community,” said Blackmore, who considers himself a bishop. […]
[Lawyer Lynn Burch, representing the federal government,] said Blackmore was appointed a bishop in 2002, but shortly after that he was excommunicated by the FLDS Church and the polygamous community split into two factions, with James Oler heading the other group.
In 2009, the provincial government charged Blackmore and Oler, the spiritual heads of the two communities near the Alberta border, with polygamy. But those charges were stayed later that year after the province received expert legal opinion that said a decision was needed on whether the current polygamy law was valid.
The provincial government has maintained the 121-year-old law against polygamy was constitutional because of the harm polygamous relationship has on young girls who are urged into marriage with older men. Blackmore has argued the law violates his religious freedom.
In a landmark decision last November, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman concluded that Canada’s law against polygamy was constitutional.
The polygamous community of Bountiful is not a congregation and by insisting that it is, community leader Winston Blackmore is trying to offload a tax bill on to those who can ill afford to pay it – including young men shipped out of the community to work at low-paying jobs, a federal tax lawyer said on Monday.
Mr. Blackmore directs what his family should do – “especially young men, who go out and work for a pittance,” Justice Department lawyer Lynn Burch said in opening statements on Monday.
It’s such young men, many making less than minimum wage, who are among community members to whom Mr. Blackmore wants to shift a tax burden “that the [government] minister says is properly his to bear,” Ms. Burch said.
Mr. Blackmore, a long-time community leader in Bountiful, is appealing tax assessments under a little-used section of the Income Tax Act, maintaining that he was doing business for the benefit of the community and congregation.
The federal tax department, however, says Bountiful doesn’t meet the requirements spelled out in the act and that Mr. Blackmore made and spent money to support his polygamous family, under-reporting his income along the way.
“If the appellant can be considered a shepherd to his flock, then the role of a good shepherd is to shear his flock, not to skin it,” Ms. Burch said.