Monday, 4 March 2013

Police storm Scientology Headquarters seize records

On this day :

 By Matt Maychak, Don Sutton, John Ferri
Toronto Star
4 March 1983


More than 100 Ontario Provincial Police officers charged out of three chartered buses yesterday to raid the Church of Scientology's Yonge St. headquarters.

Wearing orange armbands and bearing a battering ram, sledgehammers, axes, tape recorders and cameras, police raced to seize documents in the building — the controversial church's Toronto and national head office.

Police loaded boxes of documents into a truck parked outside shortly after 9 last night.

In a terse two-page statement, police said the massive raid, which began at mid-afternoon, followed a two-year secret investigation of the organization's alleged involvement in:
Tax fraud against the federal and provincial governments;

Cheating of consumers by "misrepresentations" of Scientology courses offered to the public;
"A conspiracy to commit indictable offences by Scientology where perceived necessary to protect the interests of Scientology."

Worked closely

OPP Commissioner James Erskine read the statement to reporters at the force's Harbour St. headquarters, seconds after he was informed the raid was under way.

Erskine said the OPP investigators worked closely with officials of the attorney-general's department on the case. But neither he nor Insp. Phil Caney, an OPP spokesman who spoke to reporters at the scene of the raid, would provide additional details.

The raid included officers from a Tactical Rescue Unit, which had been undergoing special training in Brampton.

There were no arrests made and no charges laid, police said.

In a statement released last night, the church said it was surprised at the "current attack" on their religion which, it said, was entitled to full protection afforded by the Charter of Rights.

"Psychiatry has raised a hue and cry against our religion as well as others and against our reforms and we can not help but wonder if they (sic) do not lie in the background of this incident," the statement said.

Scientology spokesmen said the church has 100,000 followers across Canada. Members believe courses, which can cost hundreds of dollars, can help them achieve a higher state of happiness and personal well-being.

"I'm shattered," Toronto Scientology president Caroline Charbonneau said about three hours after the raid began. "Naturally, we're co-operating."

Shocked church staff emerged from the building to tell reporters police battered down at least two inside office doors.


'Smashed it'

Nicole Crellin, a church spokesman, said one was unlocked and church staff would have opened the other.

"The third-floor glass door was totally broken down," she said. "Another was shut and they smashed it with a sledgehammer."

Crellin said police were "seizing everything and anything" in the building, at 696 and 700 Yonge St., at the corner of St. Mary St.

Worried by reports Scientology members had infiltrated the U.S. justice department, hoping to learn of coming raids there, Ontario investigators kept their operation top secret until yesterday.

"Only those who had to know, did know," a police source said.

Belinda Macklam, a 24-year-old church secretary, said she was shown a search warrant that directed police to seize a copy of every book written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and to search "all the files, all the desks, everything related to our jobs."

Macklam said police also searched her purse and took church "policy letters."

But she said she was most upset by police seizing files containing confidential information on people who bring their troubles to church counsellors.

Toronto president Charbonneau, accompanied by church lawyers, was allowed to move around the building during the search. Others could leave, but if they elected to stay at their desks, they were not allowed to handle any documents.

Armed with the warrants, prepared by the attorney-general's office, Det.-Insp. Joe Crozier of the OPP Criminal Investigations branch, along with several other detectives and five accountants, spent last night sifting through church files.

They're expected to continue their search through most of today.

About 100 church members gathered for a service at about 11 p.m. after they "reclaimed" their chapel from police.

Rev. Mick McCoy led the group in a service that included the Scientology creed and a prayer for human rights.

Earl Smith, a director of the church, told members that the organization was "going to continue as we always have."

'Won't stop us'

"They're not going to stop us, are they?" he asked the group and drew a resounding chorus of "No" and long applause.

Those attending the half-hour service included adults, children and some infants. Church officials had telephoned members had advised them of the ceremony, which was designed as a show of solidarity.

"You can't kill ideas," Charbonneau told them. "There's nothing we can't do as long as long as we're together."

As she spoke, provincial police investigators continued probing files and records of the church in adjacent offices and in rooms on upper floors of the building.

A large crowd of startled passersby gathered along Yonge St. as police ringed the building yesterday afternoon, refusing to allow anyone in.

'Little bit ludicrous'

"It was like something out of a war movie," said Peter Sfendelas, who glanced out of the window of his restaurant on the building's ground floor and saw what looked like a small blue army running past in single file.

"I think it's a little bit ludicrous," Scientology spokesman Bob Dobson-Smith said. "I'm actually in shock. I don't believe this is happening."

He said he "wouldn't be a bit surprised" if the raid was the result of a conspiracy between police and the psychiatric profession. 

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