The polygamy tax break

Winston Blackmore says his “congregation” is eligible for special tax status

Controversial B.C. polygamous leader seeks special tax status

Photography by Brian Howell

He quoted the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but in Judge Diane Campbell’s Vancouver courtroom over the next three weeks, polygamous leader Winston Blackmore is confronting another book of fire, brimstone and unyielding dictates: the Canadian Income Tax Act.

By his own admission, 55-year-old Blackmore, leader of a breakaway sect of fundamentalist Mormons living in Bountiful in southeastern B.C., has faced police investigations since 1990. But while he escaped convictions for the widespread practice of polygamy, and allegations of child exploitation of young brides, it’s Canada Revenue Agency tax auditors who have laid low the once all-powerful bishop of Bountiful.

At issue is whether the polygamous group of some 450 that Blackmore leads constitutes a “congregation” eligible for special tax status under the arcane “Communal Organizations” section of the tax act. The blunt assessment by Justice Department lawyer Lynn Burch is no. In opening comments in the federal Tax Court appeal, she called him merely the “patriarch of a large polygamous family.” What little legitimacy that he had as a bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints ended in 2002, when the community split in two and Blackmore was excommunicated from the controversial church. He represents, she said, “a splinter group of a splinter group.”

Auditors claim that Blackmore under-reported $1.5 million in personal income over five years starting in 2000, and that he washed personal and family expenses through a Bountiful-based business he controls, J.R. Blackmore and Sons. Throughout, Blackmore, who admitted in court to having 21 wives and to fathering 47 children during the five years under tax review, claimed annual income rarely exceeding $30,000 a year. She said by trying to win special tax status, Blackmore wanted to permanently shift his tax burden onto others in the group, many of whom work for the Blackmore company “for a pittance” in remote logging and wood-processing plants. If he sees himself as a shepherd, she told the court, “the role of a good shepherd is to shear the sheep, not skin it.”

To achieve special communal status as a congregation—as, for example, Hutterite communities have—Blackmore’s group must meet the criteria under Section 143 of the act. Members must live and work together, adhere to the principles of the religion, they can’t individually own property and their working lives must be devoted to the congregation. Blackmore, clutching his books of faith, testified he and his flock meet that test. He cited from the founding Covenants and Doctrines of the Latter-Day Saints, which says all members have “equal claims” to property, and that men’s talents must contribute to “the Lord’s storehouse to become the common property of the whole church.” At other times he quoted Scripture, and the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who published the Book of Mormon in 1830. Blackmore said he remains faithful to Smith’s “founding principles,” including plural marriage, while mainstream Latter-Day Saints broke faith.

Blackmore takes a calculated risk by fighting the taxman. He is testifying under subpoena as a “compelled witness” in the likelihood that his testimony in this civil case won’t be admissible in any criminal trial. Just a week before this trial, the B.C. government appointed yet another special prosecutor to consider if such charges as sexual exploitation and trafficking of young brides to polygamous enclaves in the U.S. can be laid. Clearly, these are taxing times for Bountiful and its defrocked bishop.


The polygamy tax break

  1. Amazing, isn’t it, how successive A-Gs wouldn”t lay charges against Blackmore although they had ample evidence via his own sermons that he was collecting more and more “wives” in pseudo-religious ceremonies (in reality, concubines for his harem); evidence via birth certificates that he was impregnating underage girls (NINE so far!); ample evidence he was putting very young boys to work in his various businesses for a pittance of a wage; ample evidence he was trafficking young girls into and out of the USA; ample evidence that the curriculum at the two polygamist schools (supported by BC taxpayers) was totally inadequate and inferior and in no way prepared Bountiful’s kids for a decent life …..and they didn’t raise a finger to help put this predator behind bars! But now, at long last, he’s been charged and is court!! Aha! With exploiting kids? Don’t be silly…. who cares about kids? He’s been charged with defrauding the government of TAXES!  Money, money, money, that’s what’s important to the government, NOT the wellbeing of helpless children!  

  2. Debbie Palmer wrote a book called Keep Sweet about her life in Bountiful (she was a 15-year old bride of an old dude, and had to leave her kids behind to escape) — anyway, she has said that many of the Bountiful women also qualify for and receive social welfare payments.  Nobody understands why BC RCMP, or BC government overlooked all this stuff all these years…anyone know why this has been swept under the carpet for so long?

  3. I see.  It’s NOT OK if a person collects more spouses, but only because they had a pseudo- religious “ceremony”. It’s OK if they don’t have a ceremony?  Because that is what the provincial governments allow!

  4. I wonder if this could become a case for the newly minted office of religious freedom? If so it could pit one department og government against another.
    Playing nice to the superstitious could come back and bite the Harper Gov on its bum. 

    • I’m pretty sure the ORF will have a mandate to only complain about muslim government’s abroad.

      •  My thoughts exactly.
        I can imagine the scene in Ottawa…
        Bbbbbut that’s here and it’s us persecuting the deluded b”stards.
        Quick check FNN and see if someone with a dusky hue is doing something to a nun somewhere… anywhere. Oh and stay away from Central America it might be US funded paramilitaries.

  5. My money (and hope) lies with the taxman.

  6. I am afraid Canada may have to grant the communal status thing- Bountiful definitely is that in every way I have heard over the years. It’s disturbing to think they could win a big break in that way even though they are not abiding by other laws. Plus, their school gets lots of provincial money even though it spends many hours all through the school year drilling the polygamy stuff into the kids’ heads while at the school building. No regular tax funds taken from other Canadians should be given to any sectarian school. In the US no sectarian schools get federal funds that I know of. It is understood that regular tax monies cannot be given to faith-based schools. Sectarian schools in the US have to get their operating funds from parents, private fund-raisers, etc.
     Yet this rogue group in Canada has been getting millions over a period of many years, and fundamentalist mormon beliefs are most definitley part of the curriculum of the Bountiful school programs each year, so I have heard. This is one big thing all Canadians should know has been going on in Bountiful.  If they want to continue receiving government funding they should be required to have nationally or provincially approved grade achievement standards and no sectarian teaching hours at their school building during day school time. All their sectarian indoctrination needs to be done at other times- they do plenty of it constantly anyway. It is why they live where they do and it’s the reason they are having all this scrutiny. The kids are constantly confronted with polygamy.Teen girls are seen pregnant often, along with the often-pregnant adult women.
     One graduate student from outside who was allowed to live at Bountiful to do her master’s research reported the women doing the teaching at the Bountiful schools seemed pregnant all the time. This graduate student also reported Winston Blackmore offering to marry her (in other words, she was not even of their belief system, and was known to be there temporarily, but he couldn’t even resist making a pass at her to try to get her to remain as one of his concubines.)
    People have also said the teachers do not have to be certified at the Bountiful school even though it gets so much provinicial money.