West Island Liberal MP Bernard Patry defended his recent endorsement of anti-drug organization Narconon Trois Rivière’s prevention campaign despite the latter’s supposed links to the Church of Scientology. “I did not know that they might be tied into the Scientology church,” said Patry, who represents the Pierrefonds-Dollard riding. “As a former physician, when I started looking into this, I just wanted to try to find out what type of treatment the drug addicts are getting.”
Some anonymous e-mails of complaint were sent to The Chronicle’s inbox about two weeks ago, after the newspaper’s website ran an article about Patry signing a promotional banner, pledging to a life without drugs. The banner campaign was spearheaded by Narconon Trois Rivières, an organization that runs a drug rehabilitation centre in Trois Rivières and preaches drug prevention to schoolchildren.
Globally, the Narconon network has run into problems in several countries in the past. In 1988 in Madrid, Spain, 11 members of the Church of Scientology were arrested, according to the St. Petersburg Times, and a local judge decried how Narconon swindled its clients and lured them toward Scientology. In 2003, the state of Oklahoma in the United States narrowly voted down a resolution honouring the work of Narconon Arrowhead, reported the Tulsa World. Last year, the United Kingdom’s prison systems ombudsman recommended Narconon not to be allowed in jails due to its connection to Scientology, reported the Sunday Times.
Jean Larivière, a local Scientologist and spokesperson for its church in Montreal, said the trials in Spain ended with victory for the Scientologists. They were also officially recognized as a religion in that country in late 2007. Though personally unaware of situations in Oklahoma and the United Kingdom, he said Narconon runs into trouble due to opposition from doctors and psychiatrists. He called Narconon a completely separate, secular organization from Scientology. “Narconon uses a very specific, very minor part of the writings (of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard),” he said.
According to Larivière, medical and psychiatric institutions oppose groups that use non-medicinal approaches to cure drug addicts. “Narconon is at the forefront of these groups,” he said. That is why it constantly finds itself targeted by the aforementioned institutions, who use the group’s origin as a “scarecrow,” said Larivière.
However, one sociologist does see a connection between the church and the anti-drug group. “Scientology tries to get politicians to endorse Narconon,” said Dr. Stephen Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta who has studied the religion for years. “The pattern is long-standing,” he added. “I will not respond to that at all,” Patry said about Scientology targeting politicians. “I’m a Catholic,” he added. “There are Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and all kinds of religions in my riding.”
Larivière dismissed Kent’s charges, accusing him of being biased in his research and cherry-picking facts that suit an anti-Scientology agenda.
Some other politicians have signed the banner. Jean Patrick Laflamme, a political attaché to ADQ MNA Hubert Benoît in Montmorency, said Benoît did not know of any ties between Narconon and Scientology when he undertook that action. No politician would knowingly support an organization linked to Scientology, he added.
According to Carole Arvisais, community relations director for Narconon Trois Rivières, their program is open to any alcohol or drug addicts 18 years of age or older. Over the course of four or five months, patients go “cold turkey,” replacing their drug intake with vitamins and proteins. They then begin to undertake three to four hour sauna sessions to sweat out drug toxins that get stuck in body fat tissues, she said while at Patry’s riding office last month. Patients come to Narconon Trois Rivières from all over Canada and different countries. “It sounds pretty pseudo-scientific,” said Joseph Rochford, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University who had not heard of Narconon before being contacted for this story. “It’s going to depend a lot on what drug people are taking,” he said. “Some drugs are lypophillic,” he added, which means they are susceptible to get absorbed into body fat. However, alcohol does not have this property, he said. He advocated for a blend of medicinal treatment and social and psychological follow-ups for drug addicts.
Narconon boasts of a 70 per cent success rate. “The average (in the field) is under 50 per cent,” Rochford said.
Founded by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, Scientology teaches its adepts that humans are immortal beings that have not fully realized their potential. Scientologists start off with a very basic level of knowledge of its scriptures and it has been reported they may only progress further by paying money to learn more. A church exists in Montreal on Papineau Avenue, and there are about 1,000 local members.
In small letters on the back of a promotional pamphlet aimed at children called ’10 choses que tes amis ne savent peut-être pas sur les drogues,’ (10 things your friends might not know about drugs), Narconon Trois Rivières acknowledges it does use methodology based on Hubbard’s work. “When a person thinks about something,” one page in the pamphlet reads, “he sees an image in his mind (…) the mind registers 25 images per second and classifies them to solve all problems in life.” “I think you can find similar stuff to that (in Scientology scriptures),” said Larivière, but he maintained that the excerpt sounded quite secular to him.
A glossary at the Church of Scientology’s official website defines mental image pictures as “three-dimensional pictures which are continuously made by the mind, moment by moment, containing colour, sound and smell, as well as other perceptions. They also include the conclusions or speculations of the individual.”