Government comes down hard on Scientology — in Canada, where worker abuse matters

Breaking news out of Quebec, where journalist Gaétan Pouliot has been covering an investigation by the government into workers at Scientology facilities being paid less than minimum wage.

Scientology paying less than minimum wage is practically a sacrament in the church, so the only surprise is that any government agency, anywhere, actually decided to do something about it.

Today, Pouliot reports that the Standards Commission, Equity, Health, and Safety (CNESST) concluded its investigation by finding that Scientology needs to pony up almost a million (Canadian) dollars…

CNESST is asking the Superior Court to sentence the Church of Scientology of Quebec to pay the following amounts on behalf of 62 employees.

Salaries + Holidays: $ 754,048
Allowance for CNESST: $ 150,809
The amount of $ 904,857 will be subject to interest.

“[The CNESST] may, on behalf of employees, claim from their employer the sums due under the Act respecting labor standards,” says the Commission in its application filed in court.

Pouliot added that the church hadn’t responded to a request for comment.

Quebec is also the Canadian province that closed down a Scientology drug rehab when whistleblowers came forward with documents about the way patient lives were at risk.

And Canada has never granted Scientology charity status as a church, for reasons which we detailed in a lengthy piece about a man named Gregg Hagglund.

Pouliot said that a church spokeswoman had explained that they didn’t pay minimum wage because Scientology staffers are volunteers:

By e-mail, the spokesperson for the Church of Scientology maintained that her staff members were not “employees” but “religious workers”. “They voluntarily contribute to the activities of the Church and its humanitarian purposes. They do not work for monetary gain, but to help others, “said Michelle Lacombe, spokesperson for the organization.

UPDATE: We asked Gaétan Pouliot if there was anything else he could tell us about the situation at this point, and he had a pretty stunning update for us…

Quebec’s labour watch dog offered the Church of Scientology to settle this case out of court for 986,639 $CAN. The Church refused for unknown reasons. This is why we could have a legal fight between the Church and Quebec’s government about the status of the “religious workers.” But unlike the USA, the concept of “religious workers” doesn’t exist under the Quebec province’s labour law.