VANCOUVER - The lawyer who will argue against Canada's ban on polygamy in a reference case this fall should step aside because of financial ties to the British Columbia government, says an admitted polygamist whose failed prosecution prompted the case.
Winston Blackmore said the process, which will ask the B.C. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the law forbidding multiple marriages is in line with the charter guarantee of religious freedom, is tainted by political donations made by the lawyer who will argue that it is not.
"It already smells bad," Blackmore wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.
"The government hires a campaign supporter and pays them big money to argue with them about whether our religion should enjoy the same charter rights and freedoms protection that every other Canadian also enjoys. How much worse could that look?"
When the court's chief justice hears the case this fall, lawyer George K. MacIntosh will fill a position known as amicus, meaning he will take the opposing view from lawyer for the attorney general's ministry and argue that polygamy laws are unconstitutional.
MacIntosh was nominated by the Ministry of the Attorney General and appointed by the court.
However, MacIntosh's name and his law firm appear on Liberal donor lists for more than $50,000 worth of contributions since 2005.
It's a conflict of interest, said Blackmore, one of two leaders in the polygamous community of Bountiful, near the town of Creston in southeast B.C.
MacIntosh could not be reached for comment.
Blackmore, who plans to boycott the hearings after he was denied government funding, said MacIntosh should follow the example of Terrence Robertson, the special prosecutor who cleared former solicitor general Kash Heed of campaign finance allegations. Robertson resigned earlier this week following similar revelations about political contributions.
"George should quit also," wrote Blackmore.
As it turns out, Robertson was also the special prosecutor who recommended charges of practising polygamy against Blackmore and James Oler, another Bountiful leader, early last year.
Robertson was the second special prosecutor to review the possibility of charges. The first recommended against them, and suggested a reference case.
The charges against Blackmore and Oler were eventually thrown out by the B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled the decision of the first special prosecutor not to lay charges was final. The province has since proceeded with the constitutional reference case.
Attorney General Mike de Jong defended MacIntosh's involvement, noting that it was up to the court to confirm his appointment. He also said lawyers have the same rights as everyone else to make political contributions.
"Lawyers are hired by clients. They are also citizens and they have rights, and so far those rights include participation in the democratic process," de Jong said in an interview.
"If the court is uncomfortable with that fact, then the court, in this case Chief Justice (Robert) Bauman, will address it."
De Jong insisted MacIntosh's appointment was "absolutely separate from any involvement by this office of the attorney general."
He was nominated by the attorney general's department.
There are more than a dozen interveners expected to present evidence, including Oler, several religious groups and an organization that advocates for consensual relationships among multiple partners, which it calls polyamory.
Blackmore reiterated that he will not participate after the court rejected his request for standing equal to the government and funding.
"This government has hurt us in Bountiful. Who would ever want to participate in any way with a government so unwilling to protect our basic charter guarantees?" he wrote.
"This case has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we are obligated to pay off. That will have an impact for many years to come."
Blackmore is currently suing the province for wrongful prosecution, for which he is seeking legal costs and special damages.
The residents of Bountiful are part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the FLDS, a breakaway group from the Mormon church. The mainstream church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria