The Canadian leader of a polygamous breakaway sect of the Mormon Church is not worried about a U.S. investigation into allegations of arranged marriages of underage girls to church members.
"We've been investigated 49 ways under the sun," Winston Blackmore, head of the Canadian branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said yesterday.
Utah's State Attorney last week appointed a special prosecutor to investigate reports that up to 40 underage teen brides have been wed in the past two years to church members, who live in rural enclaves on the Utah-Arizona border and here in Lister, an agricultural area near the Idaho border just south of Creston, B.C.
Lenore Holm, of Colorado City, Arizona, claims that her 16-year-old daughter, Nichole, was married against Utah state law without her consent as the second wife of a 39-year-old church member with 10 children. Ms. Holm alleges her daughter was taken to Mr. Blackmore's 800-member Bountiful commune at Lister.
Marriage to more than one person is illegal in Utah and those under 18 must have consent of a parent or guardian. In B.C., those under 19 must have consent.
Mr. Blackmore said he knows nothing of the investigation and would not comment on the allegations.
Mr. Blackmore, 44, is purported to have 30 wives and 80 children, but declined to discuss the matter yesterday. "Our privacy is as important to us as anyone's. If you asked personal questions of any of my neighbours, I don't think they would talk about their family life. Would you?"
The 30,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the United Effort Plan, broke away from the Mormon Church and openly practises polygamy.
"Our religion very definitely is that of the founding principles," of the Mormon Church, Mr. Blackmore said yesterday. The Mormons banned polygamy years ago.
Members of the Bountiful commune, which Mr. Blackmore says is more accurately described as a rural "community of people," say they are being persecuted.
In 1992, B.C. refused to prosecute two polygamists from Bountiful, declaring the Criminal Code section outlawing polygamy unconstitutional. Bigamy is prosecuted because it has fraudulent intent, but polygamy is often considered not fraudulent because the parties consent to the arrangement, often for religious reasons, according to B.C. legal experts.
Immigration Canada confirmed in 1993 that it was investigating incidents of women brought to Bountiful from Utah and Arizona, but took no action due to conflicting legal opinions between Ottawa and B.C.
"I know it sells papers, but I think people are getting bored with this," Mr. Blackmore said.
"We are all struggling in our lives to live the best we can, and I think most people can appreciate that."