Blackmore refuses to enter plea as polygamy trial opens in Cranbrook
Winston Blackmore, who is accused of practising polygamy in a fundamentalist religious community, arrives for the start of his trial in Cranbrook, B.C., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)
CRANBROOK – The former bishop of Bountiful, Winston Kaye Blackmore, refused to enter a plea on the opening day of his trial in B.C. Supreme Court.
Blackmore is charged with one count of polygamy along with his co-defendant James Marion Oler, another former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint.
Both men follow the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, which includes polygamy or what the call “The Principle of Celestial Marriage.”
It was left to Justice Sheri Donegan to enter a not guilty plea on behalf of Blackmore.
“He doesn’t want to deny his faith,” Blackmore’s lawyer Blair Suffredine said outside the court room. “He doesn’t feel guilty. So the way around it is to say nothing and they (the court) will enter the plea for you.”
Suffredine called it “a fluid problem” for his client who wishes to assert his right to practise his religion. The lawyer acknowledged that the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the Criminal Code’s prohibition on polygamy was constitutional. That ruling determined that the harms of polygamy override the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and the freedom of association and expression.
The analogy that Suffredine used is that while marijuana is illegal, there are exceptions made for people who are using it for medicinal purposes.
There are 24 women listed on Blackmore’s indictment and four on Oler’s.
Oler did enter a plea of not guilty. Because he is a self-represented defendant, Justice Sheri Donegan spent most of the opening morning reading her notes explaining what he can and can’t do, including explaining legal concepts such as hearsay evidence.
In addition to providing Oler with detailed notes, the judge has appointed an amicus (or friend) to assist the court with legal interpretations, precedents and act as a balance to the case presented by special prosecutor Peter Wilson.