|In the light of the evidence at hand, there seems to
be no area in which the people of Ontario would be served by the
government implementing new legislative measures to control or otherwise
affect the activities of cults, sects, mind development groups, new
religions or deprogrammers. To the extend that the movements and
deprogrammers foster problems that are susceptible to legal resolution,
the criminal and civil law appear already to afford sufficient avenues of
punishment and redress.
That is not to say current law is sufficient to cope with all vexing problems in this field. The study still is disturbed by questions surrounding the concepts of cultic brainwashing, mind control, mental coercion and hypnosis. It remains disquieted by the wanton use of confrontation techniques by some groups. It is convinced that some movements are, as their detractors say, corrupt, even pernicious. It has no doubt that some leaders are false prophets who lure bewildered people through a maze of absurdities, waste talents and abuse intellects for the sake of some self-gratification. All that and other unresolved problems leave the study feeling somewhat uneasy.
However, the study can conceive of no new laws that would be warranted under the criteria set out earlier in this section. One of those criteria required that legislation to restrict the movements' activities include clear definitions of the practices to be prohibited and, where necessary, the groups to be restrained. Yet, none of the sources the study consulted, including many psychiatrists, were able to define concepts such as brainwashing or mental coercion in legislatively functional terms. None could propose ways of distinguishing between qualified and unqualified users of mind development and other techniques that would not bar "respectable" practitioners from using them. They could not, for that matter, define a cult, sect or new religion for legislative purposes in a way that would satisfy the dictates of justice.
A second criterion, set by the study for new legislation in this area, required that the evil to be contained would have to be of such size and importance that any restraints, which statutes might impose on human rights and freedoms, would be acceptable. There were practices that clearly could be damaging to some who undertook them. There were beliefs that most people likely would find bizarre, even unsavory. And some people unquestionably had suffered as a consequence. Yet, to intervene in such matters would involve government as an arbiter in determining the appropriateness of personal choice and belief. The evil, the study had to conclude, was simply not of sufficient magnitude.
The study found support for its position in the final report of the Committee on the Healing Arts, which was submitted to the Ontario government in 1970. The committee, which had inquired into practices of several sectarian healers, faith healers, spiritualist groups and new religions, concluded:
Furthermore, police, who were contacted by the study, did not envisage a need for new legislative action. Religious leaders, clinicians, educators and other professions most often warned against it. Even the more ardent anti-cultists found it impossible to propose statutory measures which would not unduly limit freedoms, not only of the groups and their members, but others in the society as well. Certainly the study could not devise any.
None of the 32 Ontario Crown Attorneys, who answered the study inquiry, indicated a concern that the groups were menacing society. Similarly, 47 U.S. Attorneys General, who responded to letters from the study, said their jurisdictions had not passed statutes to curb such groups.
Unfortunately, eternal vigilance is not the only price of liberty. Casualties also are a cost. The society that values its freedoms must accept that it cannot always protect those of its members who voluntarily relinquish their independence, devote their assets to empty causes or engage in practices that cause them harm. Where matters of faith and association are involved, the individual who is truly free is free not only to enjoy, but also to suffer form his choices.
None of this means, of course, that a free society is powerless against groups it perceives to be engaging in unacceptable activities that are beyond the reach of law. For example, even where governments may not intervene for fear of abrogating rights and freedoms, a free press and citizenry have a right to responsible inquiry. That right already has proved in Ontario to have been a potent weapon. A highly controversial religious commune examined in this study reportedly has succumbed to such pressure, sold its country property and disbanded. A mind development group, the subject of much press criticism, has suffered a drastic drop in membership and the defections of several key staff members who became disillusioned when the leadership's scandalous behavior was revealed.
Indeed, the conduct of this study, which was an undertaking designed simply to shed light on certain issues, appears to have had a sobering effect on some groups. There is reason to believe that even the non-coercive, informal approach of the study served to make some groups moderate their practices and led some of their stalwarts to question the groups' operations more rigorously. The evidence suggests, for example, that some of those who defected from a mind development group did so when the study, which seemed to them a fair-minded inquirer, was given patently untrue answers to questions it had asked of the group's leaders. During the 18 months the study was functioning, very few additional complaints of any significance involving the groups studied were received. All pertinent ministries and public and private agencies had been encouraged to contact the study about any developments or problems that might have been relevant to this project.
The exercise of responsible inquiry, the exposure of ideas and activities to public scrutiny, then, are themselves moderating influences on cultic and, for that matter, other groups. But in its attempts to protect itself against whatever threats may be posed by some such groups, a society also can forearm its members by forewarning them. Repeatedly, throughout its interviews and in many of this submission the study was urged to promote public education in this field. What some parties envisaged as education, of course, amounted more to propaganda for one or another viewpoint. But the study concluded that there is profound and widespread public ignorance regarding cults, sects, mind development groups, new religions and even deprogramming. It works not only to the detriment of uninformed people, who are ensnared by predatory movements or deprogrammers, but also to the detriment of benign groups or deprogrammers to whom the image of predator is applied unjustly. Accordingly, some groups were among those urging a fair and balanced program of public education. Perhaps one of the best expressions of the need for public education was contained in the 1978 report on a study of cultic groups conducted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia. The report says:
Who should conduct such programs? In the study's view they should be undertaken by community groups and institutions, but not by government or with government involvement.
This is of course distinct from the role to be played by the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, and the Ministry of the Attorney General in educating the public about relevant existing legislation which they administer. Governments simply should not participate in efforts to resolve issues where questions of faith or belief may be involved. Elaborating on who should and should not undertake public education in this field, the report of the Jewish Community Relations Council continues:
But while the study does not feel the government can appropriately participate in such public education programs, it does believe the schools, even though they are public institutions, do have a role in this area. The quest for spiritual certainty and salvation, whether in religious or secular movements, has been and still is too significant a fact of human existence to be ignored by educators. It has shaped history, it appears to be affecting the lives of many -- especially the young -- in the present and it promises to continue doing so in the future. Therefore, the study believes that schools would do well to educate their students about the historical, social and spiritual antecedents of the phenomenon and to describe its manifestations in today's society.
While it is acknowledged that the school's role is an ever-broadening one, it is nevertheless the study's view that the type of information described should be introduced at least into the optional World Religions courses available to secondary school students. At the same time, though, aspects of the subject also could be incorporated into core courses in history and social studies. The material should be prepared carefully to avoid bias and should be taught by historians or social scientists versed in the objective presentation of controversial materials. As the Mackay Commission cautioned in its 1969 report on religious education,
Society, then is not without protection against the questionable activities of exploitative, destructive movements. Existing laws are as extensive as currently feasible and likely give a good deal more protection than their use to date would suggest. At the same time, society has recourse outside the statutory realm which, if taken wisely and fairly, can curb excesses that laws cannot address.
That being the case, the study can identify no legitimate grounds on which to base substantive recommendations for government action. In the light of the evidence and the bulk of the advice at hand, none seems warranted.
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