A handful of men and women gathered in downtown Sutton, Ont. in February 1974 for a funeral. Four pallbearers carried a coffin down the main street of the quiet town—but no one had died. Instead, the symbolic gesture was to mourn the “lost souls” of a local family after they left the Church of Scientology.
“Of course it was designed to shut us up,” said former member, 94-year-old Nancy “Nan” McLean.
She joined the Toronto Org in 1969. A year later, she became a staff member and worked at the Avenue Road location. Her family joined, too: Her son, John (who left his last year of high school to become a member of the Sea Org and worked with Scientology creator L. Ron Hubbard), as well as her husband Eric, son Bruce, and daughter-in-law Dawn. But when they noticed “little and big things wrong” within the church, McLean said they were met with hostility and harassment — and eventually the mock funeral — for questioning policies and behaviour.
“It needs to be out there so the people know it’s not just current,” said McLean. “It is just as bad as it was in my time.”
McLean grew up going back and forth between Toronto and Niagara Falls. She was a boarder at Branksome Hall, presumably because she was a “bit of a troublemaker,” she said. She was married at 20 and had four children, three boys and a girl. (The latter never joined Scientology). After traveling for her husband’s work in the air force, they settled down in Sutton in the 1960s. McLean heard a report about Scientology on the radio while driving one day. She liked that it aligned with her belief in reincarnation and even though she wasn’t a “worshipping person,” she wanted to be part of it.
The tension for McLean started after she joined staff in 1970. There were certain policies she didn’t agree with, like treating suppressive persons as “fair game.” The latter meant the church could “trick, sue, lie to them or destroy them,” in order to protect Scientology, said McLean. She also came across the R2–45 policy. It was described as “someone being shot…and then leaving the body,” (as a way to achieve exteriorization) by a former public relations officer of the church on a radio show in Vancouver, B.C. He maintained that the policy was “not an auditing process” and “was named in jest by Mr. Hubbard in his writing,” according to a transcript of the interview filed by the Archives of Ontario.
McLean said she was approached by members of the Guardian’s Office — a now defunct group of high-ranking members dedicated to safeguarding and expanding Scientology — and was told to become a guarantor to take out bank loans to hand over to the church.
“I was told I had to go to two different banks, lie about my income, lie about my employer, so that two different Scientologists could get loans,” she said. “At first I refused. I said that’s dishonest and it’s not true and I can’t do it. Then they threatened me with expulsion if I didn’t, and so I did it, in both cases.”
The money was handed over to the church right away, said McLean. This was a major turning point, she said, because she couldn’t justify her motives anymore. In March 1972, she went through a series of auditing sessions and was questioned about her concerns. She later explained why she wouldn’t stop speaking out in a church document labelled “Report of Nan McLean’s History in Scientology”:
“There is such a fear factor involved and entwined that no one will take responsibility and expose the negative side of Scientology. So what might seem like a ‘personal vendetta’ is in fact necessary for everyone’s survival, Scientology included. The lie must be exposed.”
The church’s media relations team prepared a response about the Guardian’s Office over email. They called the group a “rogue unit that the Church disbanded and disavowed more than three decades ago. Church leadership rooted out all those with any connection to the renegade activities of that unit, dismissed them and disbanded the office. The work done to take responsibility for the effects these people created was extensive and comprehensive, as even the court acknowledged.”
McLean voiced her concerns about the “fair game” policy to Bryan G. Levman, a member who worked in various positions, including former assistant guardian of the Church of Scientology of Toronto, and of Canada. She said he told her “fair game” was officially canceled; however, an updated version from October 1968 promoted the same treatment of church enemies, saying: “This (policy letter) does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP (suppressive person).”
McLean wasn’t satisfied with Levman’s answers about “fair game,” R2–45, or the treatment of herself and other staff—so she did what Scientologists are taught to do. She and her family wrote knowledge reports (statements about “upsets” within the church or off-policy behaviour of members) and sent them to Hubbard.
“If you can’t get satisfaction in your own Org, go above, go above, go above, to where ever you get your message through. That’s what we did. We went to the top,” said McLean.
While they waited for Hubbard’s response, McLean said she and her family were harassed at a staff meeting in Toronto. Hubbard answered the McLeans personally in a series of letters in the summer of 1972 .
A written statement called an ethics order was sent out to staff members at the Toronto Org on August 7, 1972. It said the McLeans were in “good standing as Scientologists.”
“Insinuations were made that this was not the case, which resulted in enturbulation [sic] and some harrassment [sic] of the McLeans. This is to stop. We apologize for any upset caused by any member of the Toronto Staff.”
But the ethics order didn’t accomplish much. McLean was questioned during a “security check,” (often shortened to “sec check,” a process similar to an interrogation) and was blamed for the “outnesses that were going on in Toronto and off-policy efforts,” she said. She was accused of trying to persuade a Scientologist to leave the church and refused to reveal his whereabouts to staff members. This was considered a “crime” and widened the chasm between McLean and the church.
She officially left on Oct. 17, 1972 after an hours-long “sec check.” According to a document filed by the Archives of Ontario, Levman said McLean was expelled from the church and refused to attend a committee of evidence, like a trial run by Scientologists for the purpose of absolving or punishing members.
McLean said she had no interest in facing the committee or returning to the church. Neither did her family. One by one, they left.
“We were all suffering from the same problem,” she said.
“We all could see the rottenness.”
McLeans in the spotlight
Fuelled by the truth and shunned by the church, the McLeans spoke out about their experience with certain media organizations. On April 22, 1973, the McLeans appeared on an episode of W5, an investigative television series produced by CTV News. They discussed their concerns about the church, including how Sea Org members signed a billion-year contract, and how members continuously paid to take courses. (At the time of the interview, the family had spent more than $9,000). In the video, McLean was a strong supporter of the church’s technology, but maintained there were deeply rooted problems. When her daughter, who hadn’t joined the church, asked her to admit that she was “duped” by Scientology, McLean outright refused.
“They didn’t brainwash me. I did it (to myself). That’s an important thing to remember. The W5 video depicted that very nicely,” she said, adding that it took about five years after that interview to completely abandon Scientology.
Levman appeared at the end of the video in a sit-down interview with host and reporter Tom Gould. He said the McLeans were not credible sources and accused the network of doing an “excellent smear job.”
Levman declined to be interviewed for this article.
The family was the subject of articles, radio shows and television series after their first appearance on W5. Meanwhile, the church was still trying to keep them quiet, said McLean—and the mock funeral was not the only public event that targeted them.
There were demonstrations held against her husband, Eric, outside his workplace in Richmond Hill and at their Sutton home in early February 1974, according to court documents filed in the Archives of Ontario. A local newspaper, The Liberal, wrote about it at the time, saying, “The members said they were protesting because of remarks allegedly made against the church by Mr. McLean on a CTV television show in April of 1973.”
McLean also said she received phone calls from people who were saying that her husband was having an affair.
A second W5 show about the church aired in March 1974. The McLeans spoke about the funeral and video footage showed pallbearers carrying an empty coffin around Sutton and a handful of people trailing behind.
Leaflets condemning the family were handed out. A press release with the Church of Scientology of Toronto heading said the service was, “calling on people who have rejected religion to return to the Church.” It also said the McLeans were a “prime example of a family who has not only rejected religion but tried to convince others to leave their faiths.”
The McLeans went to the CBC in Toronto for an interview with journalist Norm Perry at the end of March 1974. Levman showed up at the studio while they were taping the radio show. According to his affidavit filed by the Archives of Ontario, he said:
“I was not at the studio by invitation and was not allowed to confront and answer the McLean’s allegations at the time that they were made, though I repeatedly asked to.”
The McLeans appeared on CityTV in April, and two months later, journalist John Saunders published his articles about the family’s experiences in Macleans Magazine. But it was the second W5 interview showing the mock funeral that triggered legal action.
A writ of summons submitted by the Church of Scientology of Toronto in May 1974 named not only the McLeans as defendants, but CTV Television Network Ltd., CFTO Limited and journalists John Saunders and Robert Reguly. The W5 show was pulled from the air pending an upcoming trial. The church accused the defendants of conspiracy to commit libels and sought an injunction to restrain them from “further conspiring to commit libels and from publishing and broadcasting further libels…” according to court documents filed by the Archives of Ontario. The church later decided to seek a total of $2 million for general and punitive damages.
W5 has not released the second interview featuring the McLeans, but the transcript was filed by the Archives of Ontario. It includes a part of the Vancouver, B.C. radio interview about R2–45 policy.
Read it below.
Before the writ of summons was submitted, the church was already involved in a civil court action with McLean. She had obtained certain documents that they didn’t want to be made public. In April 1974, two men were discovered with lock-picking tools at a Toronto office building — the same location as the law firm representing McLean. Security staff found the two men in an elevator room at 11 p.m. on the seventeenth floor with tools, two briefcases and three flashlights, according to a letter signed by a former Ontario Assistant Crown Attorney. When police investigated the incident, one of the men said they were there to “get into the law firm” to “look at some documents.”
The letter continued:
“The police investigation also revealed that both (Michael) Chornopesky and (Allen) Coulson are members of the Church of Scientology and that a former member of the organization had left taking document [sic] relating to various activities within the Church of Scientology. Civil litigation relative to these documents was pending and the firm of Weir and Foulds 330 University Avenue was representing the former member.”
The accused were initially charged with being in possession of instruments for the purpose of lock-picking; however, the sentence was suspended by the judge at the end of October 1975. Chornopesky and Coulson were placed on probation for two years.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit continued.
The Curry Case
Before the rallies and mock funeral took place, a Scientologist named Walter John Curry showed up on the McLean’s doorstep in January 1974. This wasn’t the first time someone had come to the family for support, saying they had left the church. Another man showed up a year earlier and said he was leaving Scientology. Then, he submitted a written statement against the family, claiming they were only going against the church for attention.
Despite McLeans’ unease with the unannounced guest, she welcomed Curry into her Sutton home. He revealed details about how Guardian’s Office members were behind the harassment and strange phone calls made about Eric McLean having an affair. Curry agreed to submit an affidavit defending the family and told McLean he would even testify in court, she said.
After Curry left, they exchanged letters. In one dated Feb. 18, 1974 — almost a week after the mock funeral — Curry told her how he was feeling.
After talking to you the other nite [sic], I expect the worst myself. (A church member) was prowling up and down the streets late this afternoon in front of the house. I jokingly said to Eve I wonder if he is looking things over so he can place the pickets — but I wonder whether it really is a joke or not…I rather hope the Org doesn’t attack me. I don’t want to become some formidable adversary but I’m sure I would if aroused and endangered personally…
I have ALL [sic] kinds of data that I’ve not revealed to anyone but will if I’m attacked.”
Their friendship continued as staff members from the church were still reaching out to McLean, trying to gauge what information she had. In a phone conversation with a senior member in 1975, she confirmed that Curry would support her claims, although he had not yet submitted the affidavit.
Two days later, McLean received a call from the same staff member, who told her Curry was dead. (McLean said she went to report this to police immediately after.)
Curry was a Scientologist from Toronto who had returned to Canada in February 1973 after an expedition in South America and the United States. In church documents, he was described as a “philosopher” who had been “wandering most of his life.” Before he died on Aug. 1, 1975, he was working in Goderich, Ont. and camping out in a tent with two other men. There was a fire, which was reportedly sparked by a cigarette. Curry and another Toronto man, David Albert Imhoff, were killed and a third man survived. (Imhoff was not a Scientologist).
McLean spoke to an investigating officer on August 29. Less than a month later, a provincial constable wrote her a letter saying there would be an inquest into the deaths.
She was summoned to a Goderich courthouse on Oct. 24, 1975, at the request of the coroner, according to the government document.
She said the inquest turned into an investigation into the materials used by the tent company, John Leckie Ltd, and the deaths were ruled as accidental.
“Before ruling that Walter Curry and David Albert Imhoff died accidentally as the result of a tent fire caused by careless smoking, the jury learned that there are no standards in Canada for the manufacture of fire retardant tents and sleeping bags,” according to a Globe and Mail article published about the inquest the following day.
McLean was “horrified” because she was asked to testify, she said. She called the experience painful because she felt responsible for Curry’s death.
‘The public has a right to know’
The investigation into the fatal tent fire was overshadowed by court appearances, paperwork and the pending trial between McLean and the church. Her family’s case had become entangled with other cases. There were efforts by the police to discover Scientology activities in Toronto. McLean said she worked with officers leading up to the 1983 raid at the church’s Yonge Street headquarters, which was part of a four-year anti-rackets investigation and saw more than 200,000 documents seized.
The search revealed a church initiative where members gathered official documents considered harmful to Scientology by infiltrating the government, Ontario Provincial Police, Metro Toronto Police (now Toronto Police Services), and the RCMP. Nineteen people, some members of the Guardian’s Office, were criminally charged with theft and breach-of-trust in 1984. A jury in the 1992 trial found the church itself guilty on two counts of breach-of-trust and it was fined $250,000 for activities that occurred in the 1970s.
After years of drawn-out legal action, McLean reached a settlement with the church in 1986, more than a decade after it all started.
In a written statement about the settlement, the church said in an email:
“As to the McLeans, part of disbanding the Guardian’s Office included resolving all of the litigation it generated. The August 1986 settlement with the McLean family helped close the book on that period in the Church’s history. The Church moved on decades ago and has focused its efforts on its humanitarian initiatives and social betterment programs.”
Since leaving, McLean has lived in the same Sutton home. She enjoys playing Bridge and being with her family and her cats. In 2011, she was asked to go to Australia to share her story because the country was holding an inquiry into Scientology. Instead of making the long trip, she decided to record a video message with details of her experiences, including the loss of her friend Curry.
In the YouTube video addressed to former Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, she said the issue of Curry remains “very close to my heart and one that saddens me greatly even today.” It’s part of the reason she decided to share her story again. She said she wants everyone—including judges, jurors, and the government—to understand how the church operates.
“You can’t be in Scientology and not harm people. I’ve seen them lie. I’ve been there. (We’ve) been sued 17 times. I know the ropes,” she said.
“I have spoken out always because I feel the public has a right to know what the truths really are. If there’s anything I can do to help — and I’m still helping people.”
For more about Scientology in Ontario, read the story of Phil Jones here.