VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – As British Columbia’s Supreme Court wrestles with the murky legal status of polygamy in Canada, the leader of a British Columbian polygamous community wants the Tax Court of Canada to restrict the use of evidence used in a tax trial in possible subsequent criminal proceedings.
Winston Blackmore filed a notice of motion with the Tax Court of Canada naming Her Majesty the Queen as a respondent. Blackmore, in appealing a tax assessment, seeks orders “restricting the publication of any evidence of any witness for the Appellant in the trial of this matter relating to polygamy, plural marriage, ‘celestial marriage’ (as it is sometimes referred to) or similar practices.”
He also seeks an order directing the government to “not use nor make available to any person or entity for the purposes of prosecution” evidence given by witnesses in the upcoming tax trial relating to polygamy.
According to the motion, witnesses in the tax trial fear that evidence given about living arrangements and other information about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be used in criminal trials after the B.C. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of criminal laws against polygamy.
Polygamy laws in the country were long held by legal experts to be unconstitutional under religious freedom provisions in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, leading the B.C. government to ask the province’s Supreme Court to rule on the law’s constitutionality last year.
Blackmore claims his tax assessment appeal will set a precedent “for the appropriate tax treatment of the Bountiful congregation.”
The government, according to the motion, claims that the people of Bountiful are not part of a legitimate religious organization, and given “the polygamous nature of the purported congregation’s familial arrangements, any allocation of trust income to families on this basis would be contrary to the intention of Parliament.”
“The outcome of the Appellant’s appeal will affect all members of the congregation. The Appellant is thereby practically compelled to testify and to call other witnesses from Bountiful or with first-hand knowledge of Bountiful during the relevant years in order to provide direct evidence of the living arrangements in Bountiful and of the congregation’s religious characteristics and affiliations,” the motion states. “In short, the evidence of the Witnesses is crucial to the Appellant’s case, yet absent the Orders sought, the Witnesses’ choice is to incriminate themselves of concede the [tax] assessments under appeal.”
Blackmore is represented by David R. Davies and S. Natasha Reid.
Bountiful, in southeastern British Columbia, has existed for more than 50 years, but has been known as Bountiful only since the 1980s. It has found itself uncomfortably in the media spotlight repeatedly during the past several years.