Blackmore can't claim religious tax status: lawyer
Winston Blackmore is seen as he speaks to the media from the isolated religious commune of Bountiful, B.C. Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 4, 2012 4:42PM PDT
It's now up to a federal tax judge to decide whether the leader of the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., is the head of a religious group that deserves special tax status, or whether he's simply the head of an unconventional and very large family without any such protection.
The federal government has been battling Winston Blackmore in court, claiming he underestimated his earnings by $1.5 million over a five-year period between 2000 and 2006.
But in his final submission before the case is handed over to the judge for a ruling, Blackmore's lawyer, David Davies, told the Federal Tax Court Friday that Bountiful is a closed society and deserves the same special tax status afforded to other communities, like Hutterite colonies.
Davies said the proof of that closed society comes in the actions of the community in everything from educating their own children to bride swapping.
"As for the allegations about trafficking in brides, first of all in a closed society, it's apparent that this has to be done, because to draw within one's own ranks continually results in, obviously, consanguinity issues and the Hutterites apparently do the same."
The Canadian Oxford dictionary defines consanguinity as a relationship with a common ancestor or blood relation.
Blackmore wants special tax status under a section of the Income Tax Act that allows religious communities such as Hutterites to claim tax as a group.
Davies said federal government lawyers are holding up the Hutterite colony has the "gold standard" for fitting into Section 143 of the act.
"Yet the Bountiful community is pilloried for many of the same actions."
The Hutterites work as a community, devote their time and effort to the single community, are given clothing, food and shelter, but they own nothing, he told the court.
"This sounds remarkably like the just, wants and needs doctrine that governed the cash distribution within the community of Bountiful, that did not permit latitude for any personal savings."
Lynn Burch, the lawyer for the federal government, said in her closing argument that Blackmore's organization is nothing more than a big, polygamous family which isn't worthy of the special status.
Burch said Blackmore hasn't been able to prove his community belongs to any church -- one of the mandatory elements allowing him to claim income as a group.
She said the leader of the southeast B.C. community can't claim he's a Mormon because that religion disavowed polygamy many years ago.
"The appellant is a polygamist, he's admitted to having 22 wives," she pointed out to the court.
Blackmore also admitted at the trial to having 47 children between 2000 and 2006.
He testified on his own behalf during the trial, but under subpoena so his testimony couldn't be used in a criminal trial.
Blackmore was excommunicated from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, in 2002, dividing the community in half.
About 400 of the 1,000-person congregation decided to follow Blackmore, the others stayed with James Oler, who was deemed the new leader by the head of the FLDS in the United States.
Burch said there is no evidence that Blackmore has been part of any structured organization since then.
"The appellant is twice removed from (religious) authority," she said.
In 2009, both Blackmore and Oler were charged with practising polygamy, but the charges were later dropped.
The controversy set off a constitutional reference case where a B.C. Supreme Court judge determined that the laws against plural marriage were legal.
Blackmore told the court the money his company made, J.R. Blackmore and Sons, was used for the community.
Burch said there's never been evidence that his community would fit the tax qualification.
"Call it a community," she said, "But frankly it's an extended family."
The case ended up in court after Blackmore disputed an assessment that he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes and penalties.
The trial lasted five weeks, but spanned four months. Federal Court Judge Diane Campbell said she would have a decision sometime in the fall.