Ribfest: Scientologists are offering ‘stress tests’ with the support of the annual Victoria Park festival’s organizers

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The official presence of Scientologists at Ribfest this weekend adds a new chapter to London’s history with the controversial organization.

“We don’t discriminate because we don’t agree with you,” Ruby Hillier, a Ribfest organizer, said of giving the California-based group a booth in Victoria Park.

“As long as you’re not doing anything illegal it’s fine, we don’t exclude you.”

Representatives of Scientology were offering E-meter tests, a well-known part of the group that sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard founded in 1954 – and a focus of criticism, even ridicule, from critics worldwide.

Perhaps lost on Hillier, and maybe even the Scientologists themselves, is that the weekend festival was mere blocks from where Scientology’s most famous dissident, London-raised Oscar winner Paul Haggis, was first grabbed by its teachings in 1975.

A young Haggis was walking to a downtown record store when a man stopped him at the corner of Dundas and Waterloo streets, he told U.S. journalist Lawrence Wright, who highlighted the filmmaker’s dissent in his book and documentary Going Clear.

“You have a mind. This is the owner’s manual,” Haggis recalled the man telling him as he handed over a book.

Haggis opened the cover and saw it stamped with the words Church of Scientology.

“Take me there,” Haggis said.

Haggis followed Scientology for about 30 years, a period during which he rose from wannabe script writer to Hollywood heavyweight. But since 2009, he has been one of Scientology’s most famous opponents – openly criticizing the teachings he once followed.

Obviously, there was a much different perspective offered at the Scientology tent in Victoria Park this weekend.

Travis Desmeules was one of three at the group’s official tent. A Scientologist for nearly 20 years, he and other followers were using E-meters to give stress tests to festival-goers and sell a Hubbard book about Dianetics, a substudy of Scientology.

The stress tests are done through typical Scientology practice. An E-meter is used to send a small electric pulse through the subject, which upon leaving their body registers a reading in the machine. Followers of Dianetics and Scientology believe certain readings indicate stress.

“Within the book (of Dianetics) is also a therapy to alleviate those things so we try to show them that,” Desmeules said.

Haggis won Oscars in back-to-back years, 2004 and 2005, as a screenwriter and producer for Million Dollar Baby and a screenwriter, producer and director of Crash. In 2009 he was blunt in his criticism of Scientology’s flaws.

“Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t,” Haggis told Wright.

Several governments, including those of Germany and France, have condemned the group, feeding its negative reputation.

To that, Scientology’s website reads, “No. It is a religion in the fullest sense of the word.”

Scientology is recognized as a religion in the United States, giving it tax-exempt status. It is not formally recognized as a religion by the Canadian government.

cpinkerton@postmedia.com


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