Daphne Bramham: Mormons win battle to distance themselves from B.C. polygamist

The Mormons have their names back. But it took lawyering up and going to court to wrest them away from polygamist Winston Blackmore.

In the end, Blackmore wasn’t up for the fight. He agreed to give up the names “Mormon” and any variation of the name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Perhaps that’s because since August, Blackmore’s attention has been more focused on the criminal charge filed against him for practising polygamy.

(His next court date is Jan. 29 in Creston provincial court, where he is expected to appear along with three others from Bountiful. His brother-in-law James Oler is also charged with one count of polygamy, while his brother Brandon Blackmore and Brandon’s wife Gail Crossfield are charged with unlawful removal of a child from Canada.)

It may also be because of the large bill he’s had to pay for back taxes, fines and court costs after failing in his attempt to have Revenue Canada tax him and his followers not as individuals but as a religious commune.

Last September, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a Federal Tax Court decision that Blackmore and his group failed to meet any of the four conditions in the Tax Act that must be met to constitute a religious congregation.

No doubt to the delight of the mainstream church, judges in both the courts determined that Blackmore’s group is not affiliated in any way with the LDS.

The decision also noted that Blackmore’s group doesn’t require all property to be held communally or that all of its members devote their working lives to the activities of the congregation.

The fight over who has the legitimate right to be called Mormon or use the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been going on for 125 years.

It’s a fight focused on the most controversial “revelation” of the religion’s founder Joseph Smith — polygamy.

In 1890, the church’s then-president Wilford Woodruff had his own “revelation” and suspended the practice of polygamy — after the U.S. Congress passed a law that would have allowed it to seize all of the church’s assets. It cleared the way for Utah to become a state.

But over the years, there were those who disagreed with Woodruff and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among them were Blackmore’s father, Ray Blackmore, and his uncle, Harold Blackmore. Their disaffection from the mainstream church led to their founding in 1946 of the community known as Bountiful, where like-minded people have openly practised polygamy ever since.

Over the years, those practising polygamy have organized themselves under various names including the United Order, the Apostolic United Brethren and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Winston Blackmore was once a bishop of the FLDS, the largest group in North America. But after his excommunication, he began his own group, which has fewer than 500 followers (almost all of them relatives including many of his 135-plus children).

In May 2010, Blackmore registered the name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc.” in British Columbia.

The Utah-based church, which claims a membership of 15 million in 170 countries, didn’t notice until last year when it went to register the name in Canada.

On Monday, by consent, the B.C. Supreme Court issued an order prohibiting Blackmore and his followers from using the name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc.” or any similar names — known in court-speak as “any other colourable imitation thereof.”

The order also prohibits directing public attention in any way that would cause confusion between Blackmore’s group and the LDS or in any way suggesting that there is an association between the two groups.

Further, it prohibits Blackmore and his followers from “questioning, attacking, challenging, [and] contesting the validity of, and objecting to, opposing or otherwise impugning or interfering in any way, including by way of legal proceedings of any nature” with the Utah-based church’s use of its trademarked names.

Those include: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Latter-day Saints and Mormon.

Blackmore must also immediately change his group’s corporate name to the Church of Jesus Christ (Original Doctrine) Inc.

The mainstream LDS church has succeeded in getting its names back.

But it’s almost certain that one of the defences Blackmore will use when his criminal trial begins is that, as one of Joseph Smith’s true followers, practising polygamy is his religious right.