POLITICS

B.C. polygamous leader Winston Blackmore asks court to quash criminal charge

02/28/2015 04:19 EST | Updated 04/30/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - A leader of a remote British Columbia religious commune is asking the province's Supreme Court to quash a polygamy charge against him.

Winston Blackmore filed a petition to the court on Friday arguing the charge must be tossed out, less than a month before he was to appear in court to decide on a judge or jury trial.

The petition argues the B.C. attorney general improperly appointed Peter Wilson, the special prosecutor who laid the charge against Blackmore and three other men.

It's a similar argument to one Blackmore's lawyer successfully made in 2009, when a judge tossed a polygamy charge because of how the province appointed its special prosecutor.

Lawyer Joe Arvay is once again arguing that a 2007 decision made by an earlier special prosecutor still stands, and the attorney general illegally appointed additional special prosecutors.

In 2007, special prosecutor Richard Peck concluded that polygamy was the root cause of alleged problems in the small community of Bountiful, B.C., in the province's southern interior.

But rather than recommend charges, he called for the constitutional question to be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal, with a likely appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"He did so in order that the members of the Bountiful community would have an authoritative and expeditious judicial resolution of the legal controversy surrounding polygamy, and if the law was upheld, fair notice that their practice of polygamy must cease," the petition reads.

But then-attorney general Wally Oppal declined to refer the case, instead appointing more special prosecutors until one recommended charges in 2009 against Blackmore and another Bountiful leader, James Oler.

Arvay argued at the time that Peck's initial decision should be the final word on the matter, and a judge agreed and dismissed the case.

That prompted the B.C. government to launch a constitutional reference case, which ultimately ended with a B.C. Supreme Court judge concluding that the law making polygamy illegal don't violate the religious protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Then in 2012, Shirley Bond, the attorney general at the time, appointed Wilson as a special prosecutor. He approved charges against Blackmore and Oler in August.

Blackmore and Oler became leaders of separate factions in Bountiful when the religious community split a decade ago.

Blackmore is accused of 24 marriages, while Oler is accused of four marriages and is charged along with two other people with unlawfully removing a child from Canada for sexual purposes.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

The petition not only calls for Blackmore's charge to be dropped, it also argues that Wilson's appointment should be ruled invalid and costs should be paid to Blackmore.

Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said he was aware of the petition but it would not be appropriate to comment on the "content or issues" it raises at this time.

"The prosecution in question remains before the court and is in the hands of Mr. Wilson as special prosecutor," he said in an email.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.