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Two former bishops guilty of polygamy

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CRANBROOK, B.C.—Winston Blackmore was making no apologies yesterday after he and another former bishop of an isolated religious community in British Columbia were found guilty of practising polygamy.

“I'm guilty of living my religion and that's all I'm saying today because I've never denied that,” Blackmore told reporters after a judge announced a verdict against him and co-defendant James Oler.

“Twenty-seven years and tens of millions of dollars later, all we've proved is something we've never denied,” Blackmore said.

“I've never denied my faith. This is what we expected.”

Blackmore, 60, was married to Jane Blackmore, and then married 24 additional women as part of so-called “celestial” marriages involving residents in the tiny community of Bountiful.

Oler, 53, had five wives.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said the “collective force of the evidence” proved the guilt of both men, who were practising members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect that believes in plural marriage.

“His adherence to the practices and beliefs of the FLDS is not in dispute,” Donegan said, reading her written ruling in a Cranbrook, B.C. courtroom.

“Mr. Blackmore . . . would not deny his faith in his 2009 statement to police,” she added.

“He spoke openly about his practice of polygamy.”

Blackmore was shown a list of his alleged wives and made two corrections to the details, Donegan noted.

“Mr. Blackmore confirmed that all of his marriages were celestial marriages in accordance with FLDS rules and practices,” she said.

Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, told the court he would launch a constitutional challenge of Canada's polygamy laws.

A hearing date is expected to be set next Monday.

Blackmore said it's not religious persecution that bothers him, but that it's political persecution and he hopes the challenge will bring about change.

“Twenty-seven years ago, adultery was a criminal act," he noted. ”Twenty-seven years ago when they started with us, same-sex marriage was criminal.

“Those people all successfully launched constitutional challenges on the basic right to freely associate,” Blackmore added.

“For us I imagine it will be [that] this is entrenched in our faith, and I would have been hugely disappointed if I would have been found not guilty of living my religion.”

A decades-long legal fight launched by the provincial government led to a 12-day trial earlier this year.

It heard from mainstream Mormon experts, law enforcement who worked on the investigation, and Jane Blackmore, a former wife of Winston Blackmore who left the community in 2003.

Oler didn't retain a lawyer and had the services of Joe Doyle, an amicus curiae, a so-called friend of the court appointed to ensure a fair trial, though he could not offer any legal advice.

Both men's lawyers argued against the credibility of evidence related to marriage and personal records seized by police in 2008 from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, an FLDS church compound in Texas.

The information involved members of the sect in the United States and Canada.

Both Blackmore and Oler remain out on bail.

Crown spokesman Dan McLaughlin said the maximum sentence for a conviction of polygamy is five years in prison.

The mainstream Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially renounced polygamy in the late 19th century and disputes any connection to the fundamentalist group's form of Mormonism.

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