BOUNTIFUL, B.C. - The leaders of one of the most mysterious, private and controversial communities in Canada are opening their normally sealed-shut doors to speak out against the apprehension of more than 400 children in Texas by U.S. authorities.
Ultimately, the leaders of Bountiful, B.C. are hoping to protect themselves against what they fear could result in similar actions by Canadian authorities.
Winston Blackmore and Merrill Palmer, leaders of two feuding factions of the polygamous colony in Bountiful, B.C., said in interviews with The Canadian Press on Monday that the apprehension of the Texas children requires a public response, even though the people of Bountiful are taught to keep to themselves.
On Monday, children ran and hid behind trees when strangers approached.
But Palmer said it's time to speak out.
"We're heartbroken," said Palmer, principal of one of two schools at Bountiful, located near Creston, in southeastern B.C., about one kilometre away from the U.S. border.
He said he hasn't spoken to the media for years and there have been times he's locked his school doors as reporters approached.
Palmer said the polygamist sect he belongs to would rather stay out of the public eye, "but desperate times call for desperate measures."
"Someone needs to speak up for us, because we do a poor job speaking up for ourselves," he said.
"It's a fearful society you live in when a non-corroborated call, a hoax, can result in 460 kids being taken from their homes. Who's next?"
In Texas on Monday, lab technicians began using cotton swabs and cameras, taking DNA samples from hundreds of children and mothers - many in long, pioneer-style dresses - in hopes of sorting out the tangled family relationships within Bountiful's sister community in West Texas.
The Yearning for Zion Ranch was raided earlier this month following a call to a family violence shelter, purportedly by a 16-year-old girl who said her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.
The girl has never been identified.
On Friday, court heard some of the 437 children seized may be Canadians.
On Monday, it became apparent that U.S. authorities are certainly aware of the community in Bountiful.
B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal said he received a call from the U.S. consul in the province, asking about the possibility that American citizens are living at Bountiful.
"His concerns were that there are a number of Americans in Bountiful. . . Apparently there are, according to some authorities," Oppal said.
Oppal said he understands members of Bountiful's sister colonies in the U.S. send some members north regularly.
"We have been led to believe over the years that there's been significant movement from the United States to Canada and vice versa."
Alice Seddon, consular section chief at the U.S. consulate in Vancouver, confirmed the U.S. is aware of some Americans in Bountiful.
"It's something that is not a new thing. We've been aware of some Americans out there for a number of years now," she said.
She said her office has had discussions with B.C. government officials about Bountiful, but "the situation in Texas has just sort of brought everything back into the forefront in terms of people's awareness and in the press.
As for whether there are Canadians at the Texas compound, she said that would be a matter for the Canadian government.
Eugnie Cormier-Lassonde, a spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, said Canadian consular officials in Texas are "actively monitoring the situation" and have offered support for any Canadian children who may be among those seized.
"To date, no confirmation has been received on the citizenship status of the children," Cormier-Lassonde said in an e-mail.
Palmer said the RCMP recently contacted him about the Texas girl who started the investigation, asking if he knew of her or if she'd ever been in Bountiful.
He said he told police: "I have no idea of this (girl)."
Palmer also he has no information about whether or not children who once lived in Bountiful are now part of the Texas seizure or if any people from Texas are living in Bountiful.
"There's none that I know of," he said.
The breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful are split into two factions - one that supports so-called sect prophet Warren Jeffs and another that supports Blackmore. The community is now divided almost in half between the two groups.
Jeffs was jailed in Utah last year for rape as an accomplish for his role in arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old and her 19-year-old cousin.
Blackmore said he was also contacted indirectly by the RCMP about the Texas situation.
Blackmore calls the people from Texas family and relatives, but said he doesn't believe any members of his community are part of the Texas apprehension and doesn't know of any Texas people living at Bountiful.
He said he is worried that Canadian authorities could attempt a similar apprehension at Bountiful.
"If they can do it in Texas, they can do it anywhere," said Blackmore.
Premier Gordon Campbell said Monday his government will move to protect any Canadian children if they are identified.
Campbell said the federal government is already working with U.S. officials on the issue.
"Our federal government will work with the United States in terms of those children and making sure that we take care of those children," Campbell said.
"But we're not there yet. But certainly I know the federal government and our Attorney General's Ministry are directly involved in it. And when we have verifiable information to act on, we'll act to protect our children."
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.