Keith Henson talks about his years-long battle with controversial organization
He’s accused of being a convicted hate criminal, a child molester, an Internet terrorist, a self-proclaimed bomb expert and a fugitive from justice.
Well, that last part is true, says Keith Henson, a mild-mannered 63 year-old with a boisterous laugh and thinning hair.
The fugitive living in Brantford doesn’t exactly fit the part written for him on the Internet by the Church of Scientology as a hate filled terrorist bomber, but he is somewhat peeved that his quiet life in Brantford has been disturbed.
In a bitter legal battle, Scientology spent $1.4 million to pursue a conviction against Henson for copyright infringement. Henson responded against the $150,000 judgment and costs, by declaring bankruptcy and further picketing Scientology facilities.
The organization accused Henson of stalking members and compared him to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Eventually, Henson was convicted of interfering with a religion. Rather than take his jail time in Riverside County, Calif., where, Henson believed, Scientologists had infiltrated the system, the critic came to Canada in 2001.
“They warned that ‘child molesters’ are killed in jail all the time,” says Henson. “Over the years, they’ve accused me of having sex with boys, girls and goats.”
In fact, Henson is on the Scientologist’s Religious Freedom Watch Web site as an anti-religious extremist.
“In their top ten list of people they hate, I’m probably in the low third. There are other people they hate more than me, but really, Tom Cruise has done more damage to Scientology in the last two months than I’ve ever done.”
Enemy of the Church
Keith Henson says a recent run-in with a private investigator in Brantford, who he says was following him, prompted him to resume his role as an anti-Scientology crusader
In May 2001, while shopping with a fellow Scientology critic in Toronto, Henson was suddenly surrounded by SWAT-like police with body armour and sub-machine guns. He was tossed into maximum security and held on a Canadian immigration warrant for 12 days.
“They arrested me as if I was Osama bin Laden and they put Canadians at risk,” says Henson. “They could have called me on the phone and asked me to come in, because I had a lawyer by that time, but they had to do a maximum security take down in front of the food court.”
The police later said Scientology had tipped them off about Henson being at large. Henson sued the police in small claims court but lost.
He applied for refugee status in Canada and in 2002 came to live very quietly in Brantford.
No more picketing. Very little Internet posting. Just the quiet life of an electrical engineer waiting to hear good news from his lawyers about staying in Canada.
But the news wasn’t good. Henson’s application was turned down at the end of 2004. He’s been waiting for months for the deportation axe to fall but is putting his hopes in the political route since Brant MP Lloyd St. Amand took his case to the Minister of immigration.
Henson’s quiet existence came to an abrupt halt nine weeks ago.
He was on his way to work when he noticed a co-worker, Thomas Stratford, walking along Elgin Street and pulled over to pick him up.
Stratford saw a mini van pull over behind Henson and he looked into it to see if it was yet another colleague offering a ride.
“I did not recognize the person in the van,” Stratford said in a statement given to police. “I did notice he was holding a video camera.”
Getting into Henson’s van, Stratford told him he was being videotaped by the guy in the van behind them.
Henson’s heart sank. He knew the drill because, he says, he’s been followed by private investigators and Scientologists plenty of times.
First, he wrote down the van’s licence plate, then he popped out to confront the man.
“I approached the front of the car and asked ‘Who are you? because, by law, a PI has to show you his card if you ask,” Henson says.
The van backed away, with the driver still videotaping.
Henson followed, staying in front of the vehicle to prevent it from leaving.
That’s when the van hit Henson. It wasn’t enough to knock him down, but it jolted him across the hood and injured his leg. Shocked, Stratford jumped out of Henson’s van and ran to help.
“I … slammed on the passenger window,” he wrote in his statement, “at which point he finally quit trying to push Keith out of the way with his van.” Henson called 911.
The odd trio waited for police to arrive with Henson remaining in front of the van and the driver continuing to videotape.
Henson was excited: “I think I’ve trapped a PI working for Scientology,” he told the police, who laughed.
Later, the police confirmed the man following Henson was a private investigator and they talked to his supervisor, but they refused to pursue the situation any further.
“Mr. Henson is a fugitive here who’s been convicted of hate crimes,” said Pat Felske, the director of special affairs for Scientologists in Toronto. She’s referring to his conviction for interfering with a religion by picketing.
Felske wouldn’t say that no one in the organization had hired private investigators to follow Henson, but she said she’s never heard of such a thing.
“I have absolutely no idea about it,” Felske said. “Absolutely none. I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
And she said she’s never heard of private investigators being hired in the past to collect in formation on Henson.
Henson hoots in amusement when asked to respond to that claim.
“That’s ridiculous! They’ve had as many as 25 P.I.s on me, at various times.”
Felske did offer to fax the court ruling where Henson lost his bid to sue the Toronto and Halton Police forces for his SWAT-like take-down at the mail in 2001.
The judge in the case, while noting the “ongoing battle” between Scientology and Henson, said it was Henson who constant harassing he organization under “cover of legal picketing a n d freedom of speech.” The judge noted the police acted responsibly even though their initial informant against Henson was a Scientologist and even if, as Henson said the information from the Scientologist was false.
“The plaintiff is an admitted bomb expert and has a patented method for launching payloads,” says Felske, reading from the judgment.
The reference to Henson as a bomb expert comment comes up a lot on the Internet because of a discussion Henson says he jokingly got into about a “Tom Cruise missile” “
‘I was responding to a joke! How can people be terrorized by individuals of modest means talking about owning [strategic] weapons?”
As for the payload mechanism Felske says Henson has patented, it requires a 747 aircraft to launch, he says. “That’s even sillier than me being accuse of threatening people with a cruise missile.” But in response to Felske’s claims, Henson says he has evidence acquired through Freedom of Information requests that points to Felske as the informant who kept calling the police before his SWAT team arrest.
Henson doesn’t take any incident involving Scientology lightly. So when the recent incident involving the private investigator happened, Henson went back into attack mode. In June, he started the process of laying private charges of assault, mischief, conspiracy and criminal harassment against the private investigator, although his claim; have yet to be accepted by a justice of the peace.
He complained to an Ontario Provincial Police detective who investigates problems with private investigators and was able to learn that the investigator had been working for another private investigations firm–effectively halting the process of finding who hire them.
Henson says it won’t stop him.
He’s got anti-Scientology supporters all over the world who are ready to help him with research and he’s hired his own private investigators to try and find the jurors from his California trial, who he says are notably unfindable.
He’s fighting again and hoping that, in the meantime, Canada will continue to harbour him safely away from Scientology.
About the Church of Scientology
(From The Church of Scientology’s Web site)
* Scientology is an applied religious philosophy.
* The fastest growing religious movement on earth.
* There are more than 3,200 churches, missions and groups in 154 countries.
* The aims of Scientology are a world without insanity, without criminals, without war, where the able can prosper and where man is free to rise to greater heights.
* Scientology’s roots lie in the deepest beliefs and aspirations of all great religions.
* Scientology constitutes man’s first real application of scientific methodology to spiritual questions.
* Scientology is a new religion, one which has isolated fundamental laws of life and, for the first time, developed a workable technology that can be applied to help one achieve a happier and more spiritual existence.
(From Wikipedia online)
* Founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, incorporated in 1953
* The group says it’s a non-denominational church, compatible with all faiths.
* It enjoys a tax-exempt status in the U.S., but not in Canada or the U.K.
* It has been declared a cult in Germany, Belgium and France
* Scientology offers its members a wide range of classes and counseling session for fees. Higher states of Scientology can’t be reached without paying for the advanced courses.
* Membership numbers are difficult to obtain but in the 2003 national census, 1,525 Scientologists were reported in Canada.
* The Church of Scientology is the only religious organization in Canada to be convicted of breaching the public trust in 1995.
* It paid what was, at the time, the largest libel damage award in Canada’s history in the case of Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto.