Testimony wraps up in Blackmore charter challenge

After evidence from RCMP officers, crown and defence lawyers move to closing arguments.

The lawyer for a fundamentalist religious leader wrapped up closing arguments in a constitutional challenge to the prosecution of polygamy in Cranbrook Supreme Court.

Blair Suffredine, the lawyer for Winston Blackmore, argued that a statement from the provincial government in the early 1990s served as a validation that his client could be in polygamous relationships without being prosecuted.

Suffredine argued a polygamy charge was not approved by Attorney General Colin Gabelmann, who issued a public statement that charging an individual with polygamy would breach their charter rights and a prosecution would fail, following an RCMP investigation in Bountiful, a small community in southwestern BC.

“His statement, that this is the law and this is what we will enforce and this is what we won’t enforce,” said Suffredine, “which is what he said, he won’t enforce Section 293, is a clear statement that everyone in British Columbia, including Mr. Blackmore, can rely on.

“So between 1992 and 2010 that remained the position, consistently of the Attorney General. So we say that ceremonies performed during that period should not be subject to any sanction as he was expressly told that the section was unconstitutional and he was led to believe, not by some local RCMP sergeant, but by the highest authority in British Columbia, that the section was unconstitutional and that he was fine.”

Blackmore was found guilty of practicing polygamy in a July ruling from Justice Sheri Donegan, however, he launched a charter challenge, seeking a stay of proceedings, an order that the proceedings are an abuse of process and an exemption from punishment.

Blackmore was charged with polygamy based on the approval from Special Prosecutor Peter Wilson, who was appointed by the provincial government in 2012 to prosecute sexual exploitation or other alleged offences in Bountiful. Charges of polygamy against Blackmore and James Marion Oler were approved in 2014.

Suffredine argued that Attorneys General from the 1990s up to 2007 maintained that it would be unconstitutional to charge someone with polygamy because it would violate their charter rights.

“Mr. Blackmore believes his actions were lawful, so he can’t possibly have the intent to commit a crime,” said Suffredine. “He testified to this, that the ceremonies were common-law unions, and he understood that to be legal.”

Blackmore testified on the witness stand on Tuesday under cross-examination from Wilson, admitting that his marriages may not be legal in the eyes of the federal government of Canada.

However, Suffredine says they were never legal marriages in the first place, but common-law relationships sanctioned by Blackmore’s religious beliefs that carry no legal weight.

Two RCMP officers who participated in separate investigations in Bountiful in 1991 and 2005 testified about their involvement before Suffredine began his closing arguments.

Both Wilson and Joe Doyle, an friend of the court who is there to ensure a fair trial for Oler, will deliver their closing statements on Thursday.

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