Sect’s privacy invaded: judge
When newspaper reporter Brigitte McCann spent nine months undercover as a member of the Raelian sect in 2003, the resulting articles caused a stir in Quebec and won her the province’s top journalism prize.
Her Journal de Montreal reports revealed a darker side of a group generally dismissed as UFO-believing clowns: Its leader believes he has been targeted for assassination by the CIA, he demands generous contributions from his 55,000 followers and his entourage includes “angels” prepared to die to protect him.
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But in a decision that one lawyer says further restricts the media’s freedom in Quebec, a judge has ruled that the Journal’s “clandestine” investigation went too far. He has ordered its parent company, Sun Media Corp., to pay $9,000 in damages to two Raelians who sued for invasion of privacy.
The publicity-hungry Raelians celebrated the decision with a news release yesterday calling it “a great victory for human rights and freedoms in Quebec.”
The plaintiffs, whose names are withheld in the published judgment, both said they had suffered embarrassment and loss of revenue after being identified as senior figures close to sect leader Claude Vorilhon, who goes by the name Rael.
[Quebec Court Judge Charles Grenier] concludes that the Journal was not justified in infiltrating the Raelians because information about the sect was publicly available. And he suggests accepting an undercover press investigation of the Raelians leads to a slippery slope.
“If the activities of a group or organization are legal and of a private nature, what can justify the use of so-called clandestine investigation methods in the name of the public right to information?” Judge Grenier asked.
“The non-conformity of ideas and activities? Their bizarreness? Their occult character? General disapproval? And what else?”
The judge found that the publication of the plaintiffs’ pictures and personal information infringed their right to privacy. The woman was awarded $7,000 in damages and the man $2,000. Sun Media was ordered to pay the two another $1,000 to cover their court costs.
Bernard Pageau, director of legal affairs for Sun Media Corp., said the company received the ruling on April 15, and has not decided whether to seek judicial review before Superior Court.