Constitutional arguments in the case of Winston Blackmore, a polygamous leader near Creston, B.C., are underway in Cranbrook Supreme Court. Trevor Crawley photo

Bountiful polygamist believed he couldn’t be prosecuted: lawyer

Winston Blackmore’s lawyer says Blackmore did not believe he could be prosecuted

The lawyer for a British Columbia man found guilty of marrying two dozen women says his client believed he could not be prosecuted for polygamy.

Winston Blackmore’s attorney, Blaire Suffredine, was in B.C. Supreme Court in Cranbrook on Wednesday, arguing that a provincial attorney general in the early 1990s issued a statement that said charging an individual with polygamy would breach their charter rights.

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

The statement followed an RCMP investigation in Bountiful, B.C., where the court has heard residents follow the tenants of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a sect that condones plural or “celestial” marriage.

Related: Winston Blackmore’s appeal of polygamy charge underway

Blackmore, a leader in the small community, was found guilty earlier this year of one count of polygamy after the court heard he had married 24 women, including three who were 15 years old at the time.

His co-accused, James Oler, was found guilty of having five wives.

Blackmore is asking for a stay of the proceedings and an exemption from prosecution based on his religious beliefs. If he is convicted, Blackmore is asking for an absolute discharge.

The convictions have not be entered pending the outcome of the constitutional arguments.

Related: Winston Blackmore and James Oler found guilty of polygamy in landmark B.C. trial

Suffredine argued on Wednesday that Blackmore’s unions were never legal marriages, but common-law relationships sanctioned by Blackmore’s religious beliefs, which carry no legal weight.

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

Closing arguments in the case are expected to be heard on Thursday.

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