Polygamy Charges Called 'Religious Persecution'

Bountiful, Canada - The leader of a polygamous sect in Bountiful, B.C., says he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs and politics is behind the decision to charge him with polygamy.

Winston Blackmore said Thursday that by laying a charge against him, the B.C. Crown is attacking all fundamentalist Mormons in the country.

Blackmore and James Oler were charged with one count each on Tuesday of breaching Section 293 of the Criminal Code — which bans polygamy — by entering into a conjugal relationship with more than one individual at a time.

Blackmore read a prepared statement to the media on Thursday at a community school in Bountiful, but he did not answer any questions on the advice of his lawyer.

He acknowledged Canada has a law against polygamy, but he also said his religious ways are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"This is not about polygamy. To us, this is about religious persecution, for persecution has always been about politics," said Blackmore, standing at a podium in a black suit.

"It is therefore no surprise to us that this spectacular, grandstanding event has happened in the face of an up and coming provincial election. I hope this government has calculated all the risks," he said.

Blackmore reportedly fathered 80 children

The charge against Blackmore, 52, is linked to his alleged marriages to 20 women, dating back to May 2005. The charge against Oler, 44, is linked to his marriages to two women, dating back to November 2004.

Blackmore and Oler are scheduled to appear in provincial court in Creston on Jan. 21. The pair were released from custody Tuesday night under several conditions, such as remaining in B.C. and surrendering their passports.