Protesters gathered outside Scientology buildings across Canada on Saturday, partly inspired by a loose collective of Internet pranksters who have accused the Church of controlling the lives of followers.
Dozens of protesters in Montreal wore masks to protect their identity. They alleged the Church intimidated critics and pressured members not to leave.
“I think we’re bringing attention to them and showing what kind of evil actions they’re carrying out,” said one man.
Up to 150 protesters — also wearing masks — gathered outside the Church’s Canadian headquarters in downtown Toronto, as police kept watch.
The Church, which has frequently taken legal action against critics, has called the allegations a hate crime.
“‘Anonymous’ is perpetrating religious hate crimes against Churches of Scientology and individual Scientologists for no reason other than religious bigotry,” the church said in a statement.
It also said the “altruistic purposes” claimed by Anonymous were “no different than those heard from any terrorist or hate group.”
Similar protests were held in other Canadian cities like Winnipeg, and in 13 other countries around the world.
Anonymous has sometimes been portrayed in the media as a malicious group of hackers. Some members describe themselves as people who simply refuse to take the Internet seriously and delight in defacing websites and pulling online pranks.
It’s unclear if the group is sincere in its accusations against Scientology. But its call to action has drawn the support of the church’s long-time critics.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
Anonymous has posted at least two online videos in which it blasts the Church for threatening to sue anyone who releases confidential information about the group.
Scientology officials recently took legal action against websites that posted a promotional video featuring Tom Cruise. The footage apparently came from a Scientology awards ceremony honouring Cruise.
“I think it’s a privilege to be a Scientologist and it’s something you have to earn,” Cruise says in the video, as part of the Mission: Impossible theme plays in the background.
The German government has called Scientology a commercial enterprise, rather than a religion. Members must pay for some high-level teachings.
With files from CTV Montreal and CTV Toronto