The leader of a Mormon breakaway sect in southeastern British Columbia has lost a bid to derail the province's recurrent attempts to prosecute him for polygamy.
A court ruling Thursday marked the latest development in a decades-long narrative of investigations and failed efforts at prosecution connected to the isolated community of Bountiful, B.C., which has become synonymous with the practice of polygamy in Canada.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen dismissed a petition from Winston Blackmore to have this latest charge thrown out.
Blackmore is formally accused of having 24 marriages, though the court heard after that indictment was filed against him that he married 25 women between 1975 and 2001.
In a petition to the court earlier this month, Blackmore's lawyer, Joe Arvay, argued the province acted inappropriately by appointing a series of special prosecutors beginning in 2007 until finding one who would approve charges against the fundamentalist leader.
B.C.'s Ministry of Justice appointed special prosecutor Richard Peck in 2007 to explore the option of pressing charges against Blackmore. While Peck confirmed the harmful effects of polygamy, he chose not to recommend prosecution and instead urged the province to ask for legal clarification.
Another special prosecutor later approved charges, but Arvay argued the province had gone "shopping" for prosecutors, prompting the court to throw out those charges in 2009.
Only then did the province ask the court to hear a reference case into whether the polygamy law is constitutional.
The B.C. Supreme Court answered the question in 2011, ruling after an exhaustive case that polygamy laws were in fact constitutional and did not violate religious liberties guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Blackmore was charged anew last year.
In his judgment released on Thursday, Cullen dismissed Blackmore's request to throw out the latest charge. He wrote that the reference case had sufficiently altered the Canadian legal landscape by "providing unequivocal notice to the Bountiful community of the unlawfulness of polygamy."
In his arguments, Arvay said 2011 should serve as a cutoff date for prosecution, arguing that charging Bountiful residents for acts of polygamy that occurred before the reference case was "unfair" because of the legal uncertainty that surrounded the practice at the time.
Cullen ultimately accepted Crown lawyer Karen Horsman's counter-argument that a discussion about fairness would be better heard in the context of a criminal trial.
Horsman told the court that exempting historical acts of polygamy from prosecution would effectively "grandfather" Blackmore's activities into law and grant him criminal immunity for ongoing polygamous relationships that began prior to 2011.
Blackmore's 25 alleged marriages took place between 1975 and 2001, a decade before the court decided Canada's polygamy laws were constitutional.
When contacted Thursday, Arvay declined comment and said Blackmore was considering his options.
Blackmore is not the only Bountiful resident to face polygamy-related charges. James Oler, the leader of a separate fundamentalist faction in Bountiful, has also been criminally charged with polygamy.
Blackmore and Oler appeared in provincial court in Creston on Thursday, where they opted to be tried by judge and jury. Arvay said it was too early to say where and when the trial will be scheduled.
Oler was also charged alongside Emily Crossfield and Brandon Blackmore with unlawfully removing a child from Canada for sexual purposes.