Polygamous leader Winston Blackmore acknowledges he may not be a prophet, but he’s a little less clear about whether or not he’s the leader of a church in southeast B.C.
Mr. Blackmore is trying to make a case in the Tax Court of Canada for special status for his community in Bountiful, B.C.
Under heated cross-examination Wednesday by federal lawyer Lynn Burch, Mr. Blackmore at first refused to answer whether or not he thought himself a prophet.
“Answer the question Mr. Blackmore. It’s a yes or no,” Judge Diane Campbell said.
“No,” he replied.
“You don’t have a church?” Ms. Burch asked.
“I have a church congregation, so I have a church,” he answered.
But his testimony contrasts an interview Mr. Blackmore had with CNN’s Larry King, particularly when he insisted twice he didn’t have a church.
“I don’t have a church, for one thing. I am just one of a lot of people who believe in the basic, simple fundamentals of our LDS faith and who are trying to live that way with our families,” he told Mr. King in a December 2006 interview.
“Are you denying these statements?” Ms. Burch asked, as she read a transcript of the King interview.
“No, I’m not,” he said.
Mr. Blackmore is fighting a claim that he owes an extra $1.5-million for his taxes from 2000 to 2004 and in 2006.
Mr. Blackmore claims his income should be spread around the community, and his group should be given special tax status similar to Hutterite colonies that have no property or possessions and work only for the community.
Residents of Bountiful, in southeast B.C. on the Canada-U.S. border, follow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, an offshoot of the Mormon church.
Mormons renounced polygamy more than 100 years ago, but Mr. Blackmore said he follows the principles set out by church founder Joseph Smith, including plural marriage.
In court Tuesday, Mr. Blackmore admitted to having 21 wives and at least 67 children.
But on Wednesday, the name of another woman came up, and he had to clarify that she, too, was a wife, boosting the count to 22 wives.
In earlier testimony, Mr. Blackmore said children as young as 12 in his community were working on logging loaders and skidders, earning well below the minimum wage.
Mr. Blackmore said the boys from the community did all kinds of summer jobs for his company J.R. Blackmore and Sons Ltd., including rounding up cattle, bundling fence posts and working at the company’s logging operation.
He said the children were kept away from anything dangerous, such as using a logging skidder on steep slopes. The skidder is a heavy tracker used to pull cut trees out of the forest in a process called skidding.
The parents of the children often designated where the children would go, Mr. Blackmore said.
“They were worried about risk, we all were.”
He agreed that the company got the tax deduction it was entitled to for hiring the children, and they were issued T-4 slips for the money they earned, but he didn’t know if they filed tax returns.
Mr. Blackmore couldn’t recall how much the children – all boys – were paid, but agreed when asked by Ms. Burch that it was probably less than a couple of dollars an hour.
He said the children were issued cheques, and he would cash them, giving them money from a store operation that J.R. Blackmore also owned.
“I didn’t have pockets full of cash,” he replied, when Ms. Burch asked him to explain why he would cash the boys’ cheques.
Every summer, about 30 to 40 boys would work at various operations of the company, Mr. Blackmore said, adding it was difficult to find something for all the boys to do.
“The mothers took charge of the girls. They wanted us to do something with the boys.”
Mr. Blackmore said WorkSafe BC officials told the company in a meeting that anyone younger than 12 could not be put to work.
“We tried to honour it,” he said.
In 2002, the Bountiful community split in two after then-FLDS leader in the U.S. Warren Jeffs excommunicated Mr. Blackmore.
He told the trial 10 of his wives left him after the division.
Mr. Blackmore testified there were more than 20 other men who lived on the Bountiful compound before 2002 and that they had more than one wife. The majority had two wives, but some had three, and two men had four wives.
Ms. Burch then went down a list asking Mr. Blackmore how he was related to each man, and he said that some were brothers and nephews and there was a father-in-law and a brother-in-law.
At least 14 of those men and their families left Mr. Blackmore’s side of the compound after the division in the community in 2002.