November 17, 2000
DEALING WITH CULTS: QUESTION OF BALANCE
Pierre Gravel's editorial, "Sectes: l'information avant les lois" which appeared on Sunday October 29, 2000, in La Presse raises a number of important points.
M. Gravel mentions France`s initiative to give the government the right to disband groups and to consider mind manipulation (manipulation mentale) as an offence. He indicates that such an initiative would be difficult to accomplish in Canada because of the Charters of Rights and Freedoms. Instead of new laws, he states that public support should be given to organizations that provide information that will enable people to make informed choices.
Info-Cult has been doing this throughout Quebec for the past 20 years.
We agree with Mr. Gravel's idea of limiting the government's power to legislate in this area. Existing laws are sufficient in dealing with the multiple problems associated with cults and cultic groups. There are laws in place to deal with fraud, physical and sexual abuse etc. What is lacking, however, is a political willingness on the part of those responsible to pursue cases involving "cults" when they occur. This means that they must be informed about the cult issue so as to aid those who are in distress or who have complaints. Creating new laws is not the answer.
To begin with, the "cult" phenomena begs to be examined more closely in all its nuanced complexities. In recent years, whenever the word "cult" is used to describe a group, images of death and destruction, like those associated with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Aum Shinri Kyo in Japan, and the Order of The Solar Temple in Quebec, most often come to mind. It is these gruesome and tragic acts that reinforce the public's perception of cults as being dangerous. This leads people to look to the government to resolve the problem.
Pierre Gravel points out that Quebec has had its share of cult-related incidents, using as examples the Solar Temple, the disciples of Roch "Moise" Theriault and the Apostles of Infinite Love. But, it is important to realize that these events represent a very small percentage of the landscape of movements. The majority of new groups, even those that may be considered cults, are not potential tragedies waiting to happen; neither will every person involved in such a group be harmed. Every year there are new groups that form - religious, spiritual, educational, therapeutic, human potential, occult etc. A number of them may, at first glance, appear bizarre because their beliefs or lifestyles are different from the norm. This does not necessarily mean that the group is a "cult" and constitutes a threat to its members or others. The issue is not a group's belief, but rather its actions and conduct. Does the group harm individuals, physically or psychologically? Do they pose a threat to society? If the response to these questions is in the affirmative, the government can and should intervene.
In responding, one of the important challenges facing democratic government bodies is that fine line between implementing Draconian measures which would infringe on individual freedoms, and doing nothing.
Information, as M. Gravel states is one remedy open to a democracy. We strongly support the idea of making information about "cults" available to the public, as well as implementing educational programs about this issue.
As early as 1980, a 780-page government report , entitled "The Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults in Ontario", highlighted the need for information and public education. These recommendations have been echoed by our own provincial government representatives, professional organizations and others, here in Quebec. Other countries have produced similar reports. With such a broad consensus regarding the need for information and education, what has been the stumbling block toward providing such a service to the public?
Government agencies can play a more active role and consult with groups and individuals already providing this much needed public service. The government could also serve as a catalyst in:
By taking these important preventative measures, unnecessary tragedies and abuse in all its forms, might be prevented or significantly limited. The time has come to address the concerns raised by the actions of "cults" and to respond in a democratic fashion respecting the rights and needs of everyone.
Executive Director, Info-Cult
Resource Centre on Cultic Thinking