The ongoing legal battle of a fundamentalist polygamist leader is heading back to Cranbrook Supreme Court next week.
Winston Blackmore, through his lawyer Blair Suffredine, will launch a constitutional challenge in front Justice Sheri Donegan on Tuesday, arguing that his charter rights were violated when he was charged with polygamy.
This is the first case of polygamy that’s ever been criminally prosecuted in the 127-year history of the law.
James Marion Oler, a co-accused who was also charged with the same offence alongside Blackmore, indicated during his last appearance that he will not be making any similar submissions.
Both were found guilty of practicing polygamy in Bountiful, a small community south of Creston that is associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Justice Donegan delivered her ruling in July, however, a conviction won’t be formally recorded until the constitutional challenge issue is addressed.
Lawyers, including Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson, along with Joe Doyle, a friend of the court who is present to ensure a fair trial for Oler, reconvened in Cranbrook earlier in November. That hearing was delayed after Suffredine did not file court documents by mutually agreed-upon deadlines.
Leading up to, and during the start of the polygamy trial, Suffredine had indicated he would not be filing a charter challenge, however, when the Crown closed its case, he announced his intent to file a notice of application.
The eight-day trial wrapped up in May after hearing evidence that included testimony from Blackmore’s first wife, Jane Blackmore, along with experts on mainstream Mormon church doctrine and history. RCMP investigators also testified while marriage and personal records seized in Texas in 2008 during a raid on an FLDS compound were also submitted as evidence
The polygamy charges were announced in 2014 after the BC government appointed Wilson as the special prosecutor in 2012.
His appointment followed the appointment of a string of special prosecutors who declined to approve polygamy charges against Blackmore, citing fears that a criminal prosecution would fail based on a constitutional charter defence.
That process resulted in a constitutional reference case that tested the constitutional valid of Section 293 (polygamy) in the Criminal Code of Canada. That ruling, delivered in 2011 by Justice Robert Bauman in BC Supreme Court, concluded that charging a person with polygamy does not violate their religious freedom rights.