Scientologists Lose Appeal

Source: Globe and Mail
Date: January 13, 1987

The Church of Scientology will seek leave to appeal yesterday's court decision dismissing its bid to quash the search warrant that led to the largest seizure of documents in Canadian history.

The church had asked the Ontario Court of Appeal to overturn a Supreme Court of Ontario decision in June, 1985, that upheld the warrant.

The court yesterday also upheld an appeal by the Crown reversing the Supreme Court's July, 1985, order to return thousands of documents seized by Ontario Provincial Police from the Church of Scientology in 1983.

One hundred policemen seized about two million documents in a 20-hour raid on the organization's Toronto headquarters.

Yesterday's appeal court decision means that the initial post-search hearing before a Justice of the Peace was legal, as was a later hearing at which authorities were given an 18-month extension of their right to retain the seized documents.

"We are going to apply for leave to appeal," Errol Smith, president of the church in Toronto, said last night. "The judgment is a blow to freedom of religion and the Charter of Rights.

"It creates a dangerous precedent where a police informant can strip you of your religious rights and cause an investigation to be carried out if he claims your practices are secular rather than religious."

The church and some church members are charged with tax fraud [correction issued February 2: this is incorrect - there is no charge of tax fraud], defrauding the public and theft of documents.

At the hearing, Scientology lawyers had argued, in part, that the search warrant, seizure and subsequent detention of documents infringed on freedom of religion and the privacy of priest-penitent relationships.

But the appeal court, in a 164-page decision, said: ''In our opinion, the criminal law of Canada does operate to limit religious practices even when based upon sincerely or genuinely held religious beliefs. Freedom of religious practice or conduct is not absolute, and is subject to laws of general application established to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."

Michael Code, a lawyer with the firm of Ruby and Edwardh, which represented the church at the hearing, said in an interview that he had not yet read the decision but would review it with church leaders.

He said the Supreme Court of Canada might be interested in examining the issue of freedom of religion if an appeal is launched.