Anti-psychiatry Scientologists push envelope on academic freedom

Anonymous video of display at Concordia

The local anti-Scientologist Anonymous group is in an uproar over a display setup at Concordia’s Library Building this week by a group calling itself the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (auto-play video warning).

The CCHR is part of the Church of Scientology, and its message is that psychiatry is responsible for all the world’s ills, including the shooting at Dawson College in 2006.

This is a rather bold claim, and seems to be based more on religion than on science. Kind of like Intelligent Design. Only Intelligent Design isn’t as likely to encourage people to make the wrong decisions about their health.

Anonymous has taken to writing letters, alerting the media (I’ve received two emails about it so far) and personally insulting Concordia administrators.

The response from the university (according to these people) is that while they may not agree with the message, the university respects their right to say what they want provided they don’t descend into hate speech or discrimination.

For some reason, Concordia always seems to be the centre for these kinds of envelope-pushing events. Perhaps it’s because other universities stop them before they start, or because people just feel that when they want to test the limits of freedom of expression they should do so at Freedom Of Speech University.

In any case, Concordia has caught the attention of Anonymous. And for that they have my sympathy.

UPDATE: The Gazette covers the controversy. CTV follows with comments from an actual psychiatrist. Radio-Canada also reports on it.

34 thoughts on “Anti-psychiatry Scientologists push envelope on academic freedom

  1. Guillaume Theoret

    Was the camera guy too scared to go in and talk to them?

    I particularly didn’t like the “more gullible people being sucked in” comment since I definitely would’ve gone in. I imagine I probably wouldn’t have bought into their arguments but I would’ve liked to have known what they were regardless.

  2. Jean Naimard

    Academic freedom is not the same thing as freedom of speech, but rather the former is a subset of the later.

  3. Mr. Robertson

    Apparently these people believe that the psychiatrists were responsible for the Holocaust and 9/11… I suggest we swarm them with syringe wielding shrinks!

  4. DAVE ID

    Freedom of speech my ass. Freedom of Speech has been used as a shield for far to long. Freedom of Speech should not allow you to spread lies. Citizens Commission on Human Rights is a front for Scientology, that alone is duplicitous and they have no science to fall back on, only opinion, and opinion don’t mean squat.

  5. Head Shaking

    I teach at Concordia and my sense is that the exhibit has nothing to do with a desire to push the envelope, and everything to do with the incompetence of the university’s administration. I’d be shocked if the administrator who gave the exhibit clearance did anything to verify CCRH’s credentials–especially given the lack of academic acumen among the bean-counters who run the university.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      While I don’t want to defend the university administration, I think there’s a broader question here: Should there be different standards for information booths in academic buildings? If these guys setup on the street they’d probably be dismissed as the lunatics they are. But does giving them a place on campus constitute some implicit endorsement of their ideas (just like conservatives in the U.S. want schools to give their implicit endorsement to creationism through Intelligent Design)?

      If that’s the case, should groups be forced to prove what they say is right before they start setting up information booths on campus? That would probably cause arguments of censorship to explode, not to mention being a nightmare when it comes to all the half-truths being spouted by various groups about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  6. SomeRandGuy

    If you’re sitting down to watch a lengthy movie detailing how a medical organization is actually trying to destroy lives, without a single credible source mind you, then yes, you are gullible.

  7. Anonymous Montreal

    I am glad to see you learned the news in such short notice. This time, we are not alone in this battle. Normal citizens, not linked in any way to Anonymous, has decided to join forces with us. It is, in fact, a citizen that informed us of the event at Concordia and this citizen came with proof of the sneaky ongoing inside Concordia. Scientology is now trying to spread it’s tentacles on our beloved Montreal city not by only brainwashing people but also, rooting itself in our public schools! This is going way too far and people need to be aware of it. They already bought their ”new org” on St-Catherine street very close to the UQAM, another university in Montreal. Once Scientology have fully set foot there, they will practically be free to harass and try to convert our children. People needs to wake up and act now before they wake up too late with the Dianetics course teached as an obligatory class for a diploma.

    I strongly encourage people to get informed on Scientology, pass on the word and if they wish so, protect their beloved ones from Scientology frauds and abuses by joining our battle.

  8. mart

    I think that these are the same people. I can’t tell if a parody or real. If it is real, this guy seems to be advocating violence against phychiatrists. Very scary indeed. They should be on a steet corner on St Catherine street between the anti-abortionists and the Larouchies, not in our universities.

    “Break the dark spell of phychiatry”
    “Booby trap the whole psychiatry eco-system”
    “Whose bomb hit the amo dump?”
    “Anti-psych media index”

  9. Whoosh

    I can say one thing good about this “controversy” is that it made a lot of people do wiki searches on the Church of Scientology and lobotomies. I personally never knew the history of lobotamies.

  10. R Hill

    “Kind of like Intelligent Design”

    An even more apt comparison would be..

    “Kind of like an ‘History of Homosexuality’ exhibit held by a group of Westboro Baptist Church members (hiding behind a front group of some sort)”

    The standard response from Concordia’s Michael di Grappa has been:

    “… nous avons l’obligation de nous assurer que l’Université demeure un lieu ouvert où les individus et les groupes peuvent présenter leurs idées et leurs perspectives – que nous les partagions ou non – de façon civile et respectueuse.”

    Well, of course. Unfortunately, I don’t see how a group which misrepresents itself to the public, and which feed the public outright lies and disinformation fit with “civil and respectful.” Misrepresenting, lying and misinforming is *not* respectful to other parties.

  11. Head Shaking

    I think a lot of leeway should be given to people with some affiliation with the university–such as student groups, professors, invited speakers at conferences, colloquium presenters, etc. But the CCHR has no connection to Concordia (that I know of)–it’s not as if the Psychology Department or the Armenian Students Association invited them to speak. So the university has no obligation to them, and certainly doesn’t need to give their ideas such a prominent place.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Sure, but it wouldn’t take much to find a student or small group of students willing to sponsor such a display, and then you’re back to the original problem.

  12. Camera guy

    Camera guy here. I couldn’t go in because I had already had a run-in with one of the Scientologists. As for my comment, you do have a point. In the heat of the moment, filming covertly (one of them later took footage of me, to what end I shudder to imagine), I wasn’t exactly thinking before I spoke.

  13. Camera guy

    I invite your readers to check out the information on these pages:

    Some excerpts from the Scientology internal documents:

    “Our whole idea is to knock hard and fast, in order to bring the enemy in
    apathy. Very basic tech: lots of force and high speed of delivery.”

    “I have the email addresses of about 4000 primary schools and
    kindergartens to which I’ve been in communication in the past. We’ll send them
    invitations for the exhibit, precisely tailored to ADHD and the failure of
    psychs programs in schools.”

    In his form letter reponse to emails of concern, Michael di Grappa stated:

    “[W]e are motivated by our commitment to ensuring the university is a place where individuals and groups have the freedom to present their ideas and perspectives, whether we agree with them or not, in a civil and respectful manner. […] It is a precondition of any event on our campus that the emphasis will be and at all times will remain on the respectful discussion and debate of possibly opposing
    positions in a secure, collegial environment.”

    I’m a bit confused as to how Scientology’s commitment to “to bring the enemy in
    apathy” using “lots of force and high speed of delivery” respects the spirit of “respectful discussion and debate” in a “civil and respectful manner.”

  14. HankM

    I have seen the exhibit. It is thorough and well-researched. These wild claims by people that have never seen the exhibit should be discounted. CCHR is correct about psychiatry. Don’t pre-judge before you’ve actually seen it.

  15. Head Shaking

    Okay, so here’s an analogy. Suppose the Economics department hired a Lyndon LaRouche nut to a tenure-track position at Concordia. If they tried to stop him from teaching or publishing his ideas, this would be a clear violation of academic freedom. But if they had the wisdom not to hire him in the first place, this would simply be a matter of maintaining academic standards.

    The same is true of exhibits. The administration has a crucial gatekeeping function: it must decide who–whether students, faculty, or members of the public–can participate in university life. It is not only permissible, but indeed necessary, that it deny certain people the right to participate. The criteria for this decision are fairly straightforward: people must live up to certain academic standards.

    If no faculty members or student groups invited the Scientologists on campus, the university was perfectly within its rights to deny them space. But what makes this turn of events truly embarrassing for Concordia is that administrators–and I truly believe this is the case–are so intellectually impoverished that they can’t distinguish between serious academic research and the half-baked ideas of the CCHR. They obviously couldn’t see how or why this exhibit might be controversial. This isn’t a question of academic freedom; it’s one of managerial incompetence.

  16. Camera guy

    Head Shaking, this is the most astute and compelling argument I’ve come across to date. Have you shared these thoughts with the Concordia administration?

  17. Dr. David Mudkips

    It has nothing to do with defending psychiatry actually. The CCHR is biased since they are nothing less than a puppet used by scientology to promote its own image while looking like they actually care about human rights. Unfortunately they don’t. Hundreds of protesters in the United States have received cease and desist letters by the cult only for participating in peaceful protests.

    See this video for actual proof:

    And this is nothing. Ex-Scientologists are now suing the cult left and right for human traffic, child labor and coerced abortions. You can lean more about that here:

    Scientology has also been criminally convicted in 1996 for infiltrating the Toronto Police, the RCMP and other medical organizations in Ontario. Source here:

    The university has NO IDEA who they are dealing with. And Anonymous’ job is to remind them, because we can, and because we are internets superheroes mostly.

  18. Anonymous

    I went to visit the exposition the day Anonymous was protesting outside Concordia. I walked around and finally spoke to a woman present. When I asked her some leading questions “So, how did CCHR start, anyway?” she was immediately honest about their connection to Scientology, but when my colleague and I pressed her further between other useless comments related to the exhibit, they started to deny their proximity to Scientology.

    Supposedly, according to her, CCHR is a humanitarian organization not affiliated (anymore, anyways) with the church and there’s no correlation between being a member of Scientology and working for the CCHR.

    She also mentioned that they were a traveling group going to universities and crossing the country, and that they were from Toronto. I gave her a fake name and told her about some drugs I had been prescribed (for sleeping problems) she gave me a Canadian Government vigilance form to fill out, and the name of one of the leaders of CCHR in Montreal on a business card.

    I walked away from the exhibit feeling like she was trying to brainwash me. The whole thing reeked of bullshit anyway. I’m really grateful for the pamphlet one Anonymous member handed me. Scientology is basically all psuedoscience anyway, and this CCHR stuff doesn’t seem any different.

  19. R Hill

    As per Church of Scientology’s many statements to the IRS in early 1990s, *all* of Hubbard’s writings are *religious scriptures* (except for his pulp fiction writings.) Keeping this in mind, here is an excerpt of Scientology scriptures:

    “The way to redefine a word is to get the new definition repeated as often as possible. Thus it is necessary to redefine medicine, psychiatry and psychology downward and define Dianetics and Scientology upwards. This, so far as words are concerned, is the public opinion battle for belief in your definitions, and not those of the opposition. A consistent, repeated effort is the key to any success with this technique of propaganda.”

    — L. Ron Hubbard, HCOPL of 5 October 1971, “Propaganda by Redefinition of Words”

    So, in essence, Concordia University is letting itself being used by a Scientology front as a tool for Scientology’s religious agenda.

  20. Jean Naimard

    The “church” of scientology is a criminal organization, just like the hell’s angels are.

    Here is a judgment that confirms their criminal organization status:

    Please note that it’s not from a little obscure kangaroo court either.

    Some 20 years ago, they also have been convicted of infiltrating the Ontario Ministry of Justice to destroy legal files regarding L. R. Hubbard and the “church” of scientology.

  21. Lorelei

    Very well said, Fagstein.

    My concerns:

    We should be focusing on academic accountability and noting that admins have a responsibility to preview material to be exhibited before students are exposed to it.

    IF someone approved the exhibit before it went up, then that someone has to account for the lack of due diligence done in examining and verifying claims made by that exhibit, and whether its content was appropriate.

    IF no one approved the exhibit beforehand, I’d be seriously concerned about this, as well. Is this a “they paid, so they get to proselytize to our student body” issue, someone not taking responsibility for the information students come into contact with, or what?

    I’m wondering if Flat Earthers, 9/11 Truthers, Intelligent Design proponents, Holocaust Deniers, Creationists, etc., would be allowed to hold exhibits at this uni without an academic review beforehand. Who vetted this exhibit? How much money did Scientology donate in order to have this platform with which to spread false information and propaganda? Regardless of whether or not a religion / charity supports an exhibit, why did no one, apparently, ask to review the claims being made beforehand?

    It is, in essence, absolutely irrelevant from an academic value standpoint whether a religion / charity or Scientology ( a cult masquerading as a religion / charity) backed the exhibit: what is relevant is that the exhibit promotes a lot of false statistics, scaremongering via disturbing images, unsupported claims, hypocritical comments (much of what is said in the exhibit directly contradicts what their Glorious Leader L. Ron Hubbard wrote) and it apparently rejects a legitimate, neutral party, peer-review process or equal time for counterpoints / discussion.

    The university has offered Scientology’s CCHR front group a soapbox where they can say whatever they like without any attempt to verify accuracy, truthfulness, legitimacy, etc., and they have failed to (apparently) preview these claims or offer critics equal time and space to set up debate or discussion of the cult’s claims. This is appalling.

    And, yes, I second the observation that the assumption is probably being made, here, that an exhibit at a university HAS been rigorously previewed and vetted beforehand. I would not blame any student for assuming that the information had academic credentials and verification, given the setting of the exhibit. I do not, for one minute, believe this is accidental: Scientology aligns itself with celebrities, manufactures its own “credentials” (“doctors,” etc., cited in, for example, their Narconon propaganda are Scientologists, and thus hardly unbiased commentators), and likes to set up their CCHR exhibits in government and academic surroundings, as those arenas lend the CCHR exhibits an air of unearned legitimacy.

  22. Sarah

    CCHR/”church” of scientology will be back at Concordia in October 2009.

    I saw a short segment about this on television and decided to inform myself.

    My nephew was thinking of attending Concordia but after I learned of their allowing this cult on their property I spoke to his parents and he will not be going to Concordia. That’s right Concordia, it is parents who pay the fees for their children to attend your school and when we learn that you do nothing to check into the background or the claims of those wishing to rent your space you can believe that we won’t trust you to look after our children. You owe your students a duty of care.
    Our young men and women may rant and rave that they are adult enough to make their own decisions but it is the parents who sign the cheques. Who is next? The Moonies, Children of God? I belong to numerous parent/social justice groups and spent my Sunday evening informing them about this. Shame on you Concordia for taking money from a criminally convicted cult.

  23. Camera guy

    You want pseudoscience? Try curing all that ails you by sitting in front of a crude lie detector doing (extremely expensive) auditing sessions to rid yourself of the souls of dead space aliens that were blown up in a Hawaiian volcano 77 million years ago by the evil galactic overlord Xenu.

  24. DAVE ID

    All bipolars think they are being overmedicated, it’s part of their illness, does this mean the shrinks should take that into consideration when treating them?

    The schizos probably think there’s a tracking trace element in their drugs.


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