For a number of years, the government has been trying to help the underage girls forced into celestial marriage to Winston Blackmore of Bountiful fame. Attempts to attack the problem head on have often come up against claims of religious freedom that interfered with prosecution.
But revenue Canada has powers that can not be denied, and it appears that the Bishop of Bountiful may finally have his wings clipped.
In a Federal Tax Court ruling released this week, Justice Diane Campbell rejected Blackmore’s claims that the community of Bountiful, or at least the portion recognizing his leadership, constitutes a communal religious organization eligible for tax exemption. Campbell ruled that Blackmore underreported his income by some $1.8 million during a five-year period starting in 2000, a time when his declared annual income rarely exceeded $30,000. Not only will he have to pay taxes on the higher amount, he faces a penalty of almost $150,000 for hiding his income.
The case was finally heard in early 2012 after frequent delays and a failed attempt by Blackmore and his legal team to win a sweeping ban on evidence, publication and some witness testimony. In the end he gave his own testimony under subpoena as a “compelled witness” with the expectation that his statements in this civil case can’t incriminate him in any future criminal trials….
The Blackmore companies generate millions in revenue, and while they employ many members of the sect, much of their salary is often required to be handed back to the church. This prompted Justice Department lawyer Lynn Burch to remark during the trial that if Blackmore sees himself as a spiritual leader, “the role of a good shepherd is to shear a sheep, not skin it.”
Justice Campbell was not sold either on the idea that Blackmore was leading what constitutes a church under the tax act. “I have concluded that members of the community of Bountiful are not members of any religious organization but are a group of independent Mormon fundamentalists,” she ruled.
Hiding child abuse is easier than hiding from the Taxman.