Sect greets abuse probe

Polygamist leader says group will co-operate

CRESTON, B.C. — Stating he has nothing to hide, the spiritual leader of a polygamist sect says he will not hamper an investigation into alleged acts of sexual exploitation, forced marriage and child abuse by his group. In a rare interview, Winston Blackmore told the Calgary Sun he welcomes a just-announced investigation by B.C.’s attorney general into the sexual and marriage practices of the Mormon fundamentalist church.

Blackmore, while admitting he has up to 20 wives, says his community — part of a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church — is doing nothing wrong.

“I urge the attorney general to come see us and (he) will find co-operation in the investigation,” said Blackmore, who is leader to about half the roughly 1,000 residents of Bountiful, just outside Creston, about 520 km southwest of Calgary.

B.C.’s attorney general, Geoff Plant, announced last week a special police task force made up of Mounties, a social worker and a dedicated prosecutor will look into the allegations.

“All of these are crimes that need to be investigated that don’t relate to polygamy,” said Plant.

This province’s top law man said he’s taking action because he received a first-hand account from a woman who alleges she was a victim in Bountiful and because of a “serious groundswell of public concern.”

However, Blackmore said the scrutiny is nothing new.

“(The authorities) did this in 1990 and there was three police officers there who wouldn’t even let me go to the bathroom by myself,” he said.

“They were trying to prove I had more than one wife so I said, ‘Right, I do, now go away.’”

While it’s been reported Blackmore has about 30 wives, he said that figure is high, but wouldn’t reveal the exact number.

“It is less than 20,” he said.

Part of the reason Blackmore — who was excommunicated by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints about a year ago and is involved in a power struggle for control of the community — has vowed to co-operate with the authorities is if the charges are found to be true, he wants to act on them.

“If there are cases like that here, (the accused) have to be rehabilitated,” he said.

Blackmore would not comment directly on the new allegations, but he did say his small community is like any other.

“For me to say there hasn’t been cases of spousal abuse and (other crimes), well, that’s beyond reason,” he said.

“Draw a circle around Calgary with 800 people in it — or take 800 people anywhere — and then tell me there is no child or sex abuse or spousal abuse there.”

Authorities here have not said when the new investigation will officially begin.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the official Mormon Church, has outlawed polygamy.

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THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD: HOW POLYGAMY CAME TO B.C.

* 1830: Twenty-five-year-old Joseph Smith, Jr., publishes the Book of Mormon, in which the New York state farm hand claims God is a polygamist.

* 1844: Years of anti-Mormon attacks culminate when Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith are killed by a mob at Carthage Jail, Ill. Smith is said to have had 48 wives when he died.

* 1847: Salt Lake City founded by Mormon Apostle Brigham Young and 1,000 Mormon followers, who were seeking freedom to practise their religion.

* 1887: Forty-one pro-polygamist Mormons leave Utah, amid controversy over ‘plural marriage,’ and arrive in Alberta, where they found Cardston. The Canadian government responds by making polygamy illegal.

* 1890: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the official Mormon Church, bans polygamy.

* 1935: John Blackmore — Winston Blackmore’s grandfather — became MP for Lethbridge in 1935.

* Late 1940′s: John Blackmore’s son Harold, a family friend, Eldon Palmer, and two other men settle with their families near Creston, B.C., calling the area Bountiful. For years, the community quietly thrives.

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