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Bountiful leader denies polygamous community brainwashes, harms

Winston Blackmore is seen outside his community hall in the isolated religious commune of Bountiful, B.C.Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

Winston Blackmore says he has a load of drywall to unload from his truck and doesn't have a lot of time to discuss court rulings – even if they essentially find his lifestyle damaging to women and children and could result in criminal charges.

Mr. Blackmore said Wednesday successive B.C. governments have been persecuting his religious community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C. for decades and he wishes to be left alone rather than having to defend himself.

He leaned against the stage of his recently-built community hall, wearing a black J.R. Blackmore and Sons baseball cap, boots, blue jeans and black leather jacket. But his blue eyes flashed, his relaxed demeanour quickly turned rigid, and his arms jutted outwards as he tried to swallow a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found Canada's 121-year-old polygamy law is valid.

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"I am who I am. We are who we are," said Mr. Blackmore, 55. "And, you know, in 1985 it was a criminal act to commit adultery in Canada and somehow or other somebody got that changed. But an adulterer, somebody who committed adultery before 1985, is just as big a criminal as I am."

He said he always expected the polygamy case to end up before the Supreme Court of Canada, but despite his best efforts to shrug off Wednesday's B.C. Supreme Court decision, Mr. Blackmore was clearly rankled about what he considers an attack on his community's way of life.

"This isn't just a religious right, it's our right to freely associate," said Mr. Blackmore. "It's the right for adults to freely associate. And so, to say, nothing good ever came out of polygamy, beyond ... for people who are associating adults, I don't think that's correct."

Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court Robert Bauman ruled the harms polygamy inflicts on women and children outweigh any claims to religious freedom.

Mr. Blackmore said he's just trying to raise his family the best way he knows and is adamant women are not brainwashed in Bountiful to accept polygamy. If any child is harmed, the police will investigate, he said.

Mr. Blackmore, who once said he had at least a dozen wives and 100 children, would only call his family large on Wednesday, dismissing as stupid questions about an updated child count, other than to say he now has more grandchildren.

"It's plenty large enough," said Mr. Blackmore about his family.

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He said he didn't know about the status of an on-going RCMP investigation into allegations of child abuse in Bountiful.

"They haven't talked to me."

Mr. Blackmore said he's heard about some situations in Bountiful – but not the people under his guidance – involved with underage marriages and moving young girls from Bountiful to be married in the United States.

He said he believes people over 18 should be allowed to be in more than one marriage, but not people under 18.

"None of my children are brainwashed," Mr. Blackmore said. "They think for themselves. That's the way they were raised – and I wasn't [brainwashed]either."

Bountiful resident Miriam Chatwin joined the community hall conversation unannounced to declare she is a willing member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints in Bountiful, but she's in a monagomous relationship.

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"I am not you people. I am me," said the registered nurse and mother of three boys.

She said she believes Bountiful offers her family the opportunity to live in a safe, secure and loving community. Ms. Chatwin said she has left Bountiful in the past and chose to return.

She said she will leave again if she decides. She won't ask Mr. Blackmore's permission.

Ms. Chatwin said children are safe in Bountiful, and allegations of abuse in Bountiful or anywhere else must be investigated and stopped.

"If it's a problem, I'll be the first one to say, 'Give us help, we need help.'" As she spoke, about a dozen teenage boys arrived at the hall to help Mr. Blackmore unload his truck.

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