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B.C. polygamist community praying for Texas children: Blackmore

BOUNTIFUL, B.C. - The rocky peaks of the snow-covered Skimmerhorn Mountains rise straight up to the sky to form what appears to be a natural fortress, one that protects the polygamous community of Bountiful, one of the most private and controversial locations in Canada.


BOUNTIFUL, B.C. - The rocky peaks of the snow-covered Skimmerhorn Mountains rise straight up to the sky to form what appears to be a natural fortress, one that protects the polygamous community of Bountiful, one of the most private and controversial locations in Canada.

On Sunday, hundreds packed the community's temple to pray for their "relatives" in a related colony in Texas.

Winston Blackmore, the unapologetic spiritual leader of the community at Bountiful, said he doesn't know if any of the children seized by U.S. authorities in Texas are from his commune, though a Texas court heard Friday that Canadians were among them.

But in a rare interview on the Bountiful property, Blackmore and another father told The Canadian Press on Sunday that they're concerned as parents.

"Any parent should be concerned about every child, whether they are Canadian or not," Blackmore said during a 20-minute conversation.

"A lot of those people are our relatives and our friends and I'm concerned about them. I'm sure sorry that (the raid) happened."

Blackmore had just pulled up to the J.R. Blackmore and Sons Ltd. Rodeo Grounds in his white pickup truck.

Wearing glasses and a baseball cap with the Blackmore and Sons company name, he said Bountiful is a welcoming place despite media reports that portray his community as closed and unfriendly.

Often, hundreds of people gather at the rodeo grounds for Sunday barbecues, he said, adding he's surprised more kids aren't at the rodeo grounds on this day.

At the fenced-in facility that seems to almost bump up against the jagged mountains, laughing children rode and roped ponies while their mothers, dressed in long, plain dresses watched from the veranda of a nearby home.

Blackmore said after church, the children usually flock to the rodeo grounds to practise their cowboy skills.

The leader, who flew to Los Angeles last week to appear on a segment of CNN's Larry King Live program, said he prefers this quiet lifestyle, but the Texas events have many people in Bountiful concerned and he said he needed to speak out.

More than 400 children apprehended April 3 at the Mormon sect's Texas enclave may be subject to genetic testing to sort out family relationships that have confounded welfare authorities.

B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal has said he received word from the federal government that there were Canadians among the children seized in Texas.

Department of Foreign Affairs officials declined comment on the situation on the weekend.

Texas district Judge Barbara Walther said Friday the apprehended children would be kept in custody while the state investigates allegations of abuse stemming from the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Individual hearings will be set for the children over the next several weeks, and the judge will determine whether they are moved into permanent foster care or can be returned to their parents.

All hearings must be held by June 5.

Officials said they've had difficulty determining how the children and adults are related because of evasive or changing answers.

Blackmore said the actions of the Texas authorities don't seem right.

"I imagine that in Creston there's different cases of abuse, but I don't think they'd go arrest everyone in Creston," he said, referring to the nearest B.C. community to Bountiful.

"I don't think it's Canadian. It shouldn't even happen in Texas."

Blackmore said it's been six years since he's had contact with members of the Mormon sect in Texas.

"I'm not aware of who they are," he said. "There's no one that I know."

Several hundred people are estimated to live on the Bountiful commune located less than a kilometre from the U.S. border.

The commune's residents are divided between allegiance to Blackmore and to jailed American sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs is in prison for being an accomplice to rape. He was convicted in Utah last year of forcing a 14-year-old into marrying an older man.

A man who lives on the Jeffs side of Bountiful said he was deeply concerned about the situation in Texas. The man, who wouldn't identify himself, said he is a polygamist.

"If there is abuse they should go in and get whoever is doing the abusing," said the man, who said he was 40 years old and born in Bountiful. "How do they justify taking the 400 children?"

The man was walking with four children. He said he had more children, but wouldn't say how many.

The three girls the man was with were wearing the traditional long dresses and their hair was long and tied back, but they were all wearing fashionable winter boots.

The man said he works as a logger and is away from home for long periods of time. He said there is nothing preventing his wives from leaving the community while he is away at work.

On Sunday, Blackmore's commune members and others crammed into the property's church, a large hall-type building that is covered in concrete siding.

Blackmore was seen bringing in extra chairs into the hall.

Cars packed the property, some bearing licence plates of Idaho and Alberta.

Children could be seen happily playing in the fresh, unseasonal snow.

The Bountiful community has itself been under intense scrutiny from provincial authorities.

Oppal has said he wants to prosecute members of Blackmore's community on charges of polygamy and sex assault.

But earlier this month, a second lawyer appointed by the province to review the situation recommended that the province refer the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal to determine if Canada's laws against polygamy will withstand a Charter challenge on freedom of religion grounds.

Oppal has expressed frustration with the likelihood that any court challenge will take years to resolve, but the B.C. government has not yet said what it will do.

Blackmore had harsh words for Oppal.

"Our attorney general reminds me so much of Warren Jeffs," said Blackmore. "He went to great pains to get the very best legal opinion he could. He should go join him (Jeffs)."

In Texas, the raid on the commune there has led to one of the largest and most convoluted custody cases in U.S. history.

A mobile genetic lab was to begin taking samples Monday at the main shelter where children are being kept. Parents will be able to submit samples Tuesday in Eldorado, closer to the ranch.

Last week, two days of marathon testimony sometimes descended into chaos as hundreds of lawyers for the children and parents competed to defend their clients in two large rooms linked by a video feed.

Attorneys popped up with objections in a courtroom and nearby auditorium, then queued up and down the aisle to cross-examine witnesses in a mass hearing that frustrated attorneys and stretched the small-town court system.

The raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch was prompted by a call made to a family violence shelter, purportedly by a 16-year-old girl who said her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.

That girl has never been identified.

The state of Texas has argued it should be allowed to keep the children because the sect's teaching encourages girls younger than 18 to enter spiritual marriages with older men and produce as many children as possible.

State attorneys argued the culture put all the girls at risk and potentially turned the boys into future predators.

 
 
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