Polygamous community leader Winston Blackmore kept some business records out of sight and inaccessible, his sister and former bookkeeper told a tax hearing Thursday.
Mr. Blackmore “had a locked cabinet where he kept things he didn’t want anybody to look at,” Marlene Palmer, 53, said in response to questions from Crown lawyer David Everett.
Those included documents relating to property, she said, adding that “I didn’t get into that drawer.”
Ms. Palmer testified in Federal Tax Court in Vancouver, where Mr. Blackmore is appealing tax reassessments by the Canada Revenue Agency that concluded Mr. Blackmore understated his earnings by $1.5-million between 2000 and 2006.
Mr. Blackmore and his lawyers are arguing that Bountiful is a congregation and that Mr. Blackmore’s tax burden should be shared with other members of the community. The Crown, however, maintains that Bountiful does not fit the definition of a congregation and doesn’t deserve special tax status.
Much of the testimony to date in the case has focused on whether Bountiful residents work outside the community and whether they were able to own their own property or vehicles or maintain individual bank accounts.
Federal lawyers maintain that tax laws relating to congregations are designed for communities have no belongings of their own and work for a common purpose.
Ms. Palmer testified she worked for J.R. Blackmore and Sons, the business most closely associated with Bountiful – a community in southeastern British Columbia that’s home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The FLDS holds polygamy as a tenet of their faith. Ms. Palmer said she married at 17 despite wanting to go to school and said she left the FLDS after her son was kicked out of the community as a teenager.
Her son was ejected from the community for having premarital sex, she said.
A 2002 rift that resulted in some people in Bountiful following Mr. Blackmore and others staying loyal to James Oler, the leader favoured by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, also played a role in her decision, she said.
“After my son was kicked out, I questioned what God was and what religion should be,” said Ms. Palmer, who grew up in Bountiful but no longer lives there. “So I didn’t go to Winston’s church.”
The split tore families apart and she lost touch with some relatives, she said, adding that some women would tell her they were not supposed to speak with her because she was not “righteous.”
Ms. Palmer, who said she has since obtained certification as a counsellor and licensed practical nurse, said she tried not to discuss her religious doubts with others
“I am not a Winston-ite, I am not a Warren-ite – I am just me,” she recalled saying. “I love the people in the community – both sides – because it split my family right down the middle.”
Ms. Palmer said she and others were expected to tithe, or provide 10 per cent of their income to church leaders – Mr. Blackmore at the time in question Mr. Blackmore – but that they weren’t told how the money was spent.
Ms. Palmer also described practicing “famine” – an exercise in which families would try to get by on half of their regular budget and give the rest to the Mr. Blackmore.
The routine went on for a few years running in the 1990s before people got discouraged and the practice was discontinued, Ms. Palmer said, adding that it was “about done” by 2000.
Asked why she thought there were three such sessions in a row, Ms. Palmer said she thought it had to do with raising money for related FLDS communities in the United States.
The hearing before Judge Diane Campbell resumes Monday.