Jehovah's Secret Agents

Who are the Witnesses? How do they operate? What do they believe? A firsthand report on Quebec's "underground"

SCOTT YOUNG March 1 1947

Jehovah's Secret Agents

Who are the Witnesses? How do they operate? What do they believe? A firsthand report on Quebec's "underground"

SCOTT YOUNG March 1 1947

Jehovah's Secret Agents

Who are the Witnesses? How do they operate? What do they believe? A firsthand report on Quebec's "underground"


THE STREET was dark. The only sound was the creaking of our footsteps on the packed snow. One hundred yards ahead, two women with kerchiefed heads looked swiftly around them, then disappeared into one of the shabby doorways which crowd the sidewalks in the Point St. Charles district of Montreal.

A moment later Ella Allen and I stopped at the same door. She knocked. The door was opened a crack first, then the girl inside swung it wide to admit us. Along the low, dark hall in a crowded kitchen a woman whose face and figure bore the scars of much hard work held aside some drying laundry and silently watched us enter.

We stepped into the small front room. The blinds were drawn, and three other people were there. In a few minutes there would be 12, and this unit of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be ready for its nightly joust with the police of Montreal.

In other parts of the city, in other worn rooms in homes of French-speaking Jehovah’s Witnesses, others of the faithful would be gathering. There would be 200 out tonight, carrying the pamphlet, “Quebec, You Have Failed Your People,” a detailed tirade against Quebec’s police and politicians charging “hate for free and open study of God’s Word and for the principles of Christ.”

As the Witnesses slipped the pamphlet into letter boxes, householders would call police and within a few minutes cruiser cars would be stopping passersby, searching and questioning. Before morning, a few more charges would be added to the more than 1,000 laid in Quebec in the last few months against members of this stubborn, intolerant society of Bible students who consider themselves the only true servants of God.

Some charges would be sedition, if the Witnesses happened to be carrying also one of the pamphlets released last November, “Quebec’s Burning Hate for God and Christ and Freedom!”; others for peddling literature without a city license; and others for disturbing the peace in making these calls on Roman Catholic homes.

Who Are the Witnesses?

AROUND ME, in this now-crowded room, were . some of the people who had caused this uproar. Like most of the other 12,000 Witnesses in Canada, they were from many trades, professions and walks of life; some so young they hadn’t done any job but this one. Looking at them now, making idle conversation, they looked like the boy across the street, or the girl who handles your office switchboard, instead of full-time ministers (self-termed, although this status is not recognized legally in Canada). Although they depend for livelihood on allowances up to $25 a month (augmented by contributions from sympathizers) from the huge publishing business of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., they condemn all organized religion as an “instrument of the devil.” In turn, they are condemned by all churches as misguided fanatics.

For three years during the war (1940 to 1943) they were outlawed in Canada under Defense of Canada Regulations. RCMP officials say now the ban was ordered “because the Witnesses were openly antiwar and we weren’t sure whether they were capable of sabotage or not.”

Dozens of charges were laid against them for failing to salute the

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Jehovah's Secret Agents

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flag (they believe serving a symbol or an image is a sin), and many went to “conchy” camps because they claimed exemption from military service on the grounds that they were full-time ministers. But in 1943 a select committee of the House of Commons unanimously decided there was no good reason to continue the ban, so it was lifted.

All that background of strife and dogged belief was part of Ella Allen, who had piloted me to this meeting place and whom I would follow later while she distributed pamphlets.

She is 25, born and raised in Orangeville, Ont., and is intelligent and reasonable, at least up to the point of her

Biblical beliefs.

Her faith aside, she is a normal girl in every respect, but she knew Montreal jails well and at that moment had 10 charges, including one of sedition, pending against her.

The others around the room had similar records—a few days in jail here, a few there, and every waking hour of freedom spent pursuing the same course that had sent them to jail; spreading the gospel as they see it.

Sitting on the table now, swinging her heavy-stockinged legs and blinking solemnly through her glasses, was Sylvia Lapointe, who had been released on bail just a few hours before but was ready to go out again. The other girls (by now there were 10) were asking her about women they’d met while in the same jail.

It was about 10 o’clock. Everyone was there, Jim Plexman of Sudbury, and Bill Neave of Montreal, the only men. Neave produced a pencil-drawn map of the district and the Witnesses divided themselves into pairs. Neave gave each pair two short streets to cover with pamphlets. Then everyone was silent, with bowed head, while he prayed.

There was a second of silence as he finished, then Jean Vincent and her sister, both pretty brunettes, slipped out of the door first. Fern Dopking of Edmonton, redheaded and blue-eyed, started out, then stopped, felt in her pockets and exclaimed: “Dam it, I

can’t go to jail tonight. I forgot my toothbrush.” Everybody laughed, and the rest of the girls felt for their toothbrushes. The little round-faced gir]

who’d just been released from jail, Sylvia, had some soap, too. She hadn’t been out long enough to leave her equipment anywhere.

Finally, it was Ella’s turn. We walked rapidly. Her first street, like all others in the district, had outside railed staircases leading to second-floor flats. She began slipping pamphlets into the letter boxes. The crunching of her overshoes on the snow-packed steps sounded to me as loud as thunder.

Across the road on a rink, children skated and shouted and whacked hockey sticks together, oblivious of her steady progress. Just as she finished the last house and we stepped into a laneway, a car came slowly along the avenue across a vacant lot from us. It was the police, apparently already warned that the Witnesses were out. We walked rapidly between two houses and out of sight.

About five blocks away was her second street (usually assignments are spaced wide apart to throw police off the trail when they receive calls from the firèt street covered). This was shorter than the first, and in 15 minutes we were back at the meeting place.

We were the second pair back. Within 15 minutes the only ones still missing were the Vincent sisters. Another 15 minutes, and everyone was worried and silent. There was a knock at the door. They were safe.

A police car had cruised on the street they were working and three times, as it moved toward them, they had thrown away their pamphlets and got out of the way. Each time they’d gone back, gathered up the pamphlets and continued. They’d covered every house on their assigned territory.

The Night’s Work

A few hours later, in the inner sanctum of the Witnesses in downtown Montreal—a phone-equipped bedroom rented from a French Catholic—I heard from Chris Maas of Edmonton the box score for the night: 200 “pub-

lishers” (pamphlet distributors) ; 25,000 pamphlets distributed; five Witnesses in jail.

As we talked the phone rang. Maas answered it, listened, then turned to another Witness: “Two more arrested in Verdun.” Maas told the man at the other end of the line he’d look after it, made sure he had the needed $50 bail ($25 each) and left to get them out.

The high cost of bail was the main reason the Witnesses changed their distribution system with the second pamphlet, pushing it into letter boxes instead of knocking at doors and delivering it personally. With the first pamphlet, “Quebec’s Burning Hate for Christ and God and Freedom” (called QBH for short by the Witnesses), each call was personal. By the time a “publisher” had gone to two or three doors he generally was being followed by an irate crowd, and par for the course was five pamphlets delivered and then a night in jail. Some wellknown Witnesses didn’t even get to their territories some nights before they were picked up—one, by mid-January, had more than 60 charges against him.

By that same date in Quebec Province there was $100,000 property and $2,000 cash tied up in bail, so the letter slot method was adopted. On the first night the second pamphlet was distributed, 15 persons were arrested but in the main it was less costly.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, corporate name of the Witnesses’ parent body, helps with some of the cash bail through its drawing account in Montreal. Individual sympathizers come through with the rest. Few Witnesses are well off, but those who have cars or homes to put up

for bail purposes do so freely. Frank Roncarelli, Montreal restaurateur, had about $87,000 tied up in bail when his liquor license was cancelled early in December by Premier Duplessis because of his connection with the Witnesses.

What Witnesses Believe

Basically, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and preach:

That with the creation of the world, God and Satan began a struggle for control of it; that in 1914 God’s legions led by Jesus Christ tossed Satan and his legions out of Heaven onto the earth where they entered the minds and bodies of men; and that within the lifetime of the present generation Jehovah’s hosts will follow Satan down here and whale the tar out of him again in the battle of Armageddon.

At that time, they believe, the “just and unjust alike will be resurrected, but the wicked—those who knowingly opposed Jehovah’s intention to establish a righteous government on earth— will remain in the grave.”

Then the “unjust” will be given their last chance. If they don’t recognize and bear Witness to Jehovah’s good intentions then, they’ll be annihilated forever. But the ones who then join Jehovah, along with the people who were witnesses all along, will have a glowing future, everlasting. Witnesses believe their youth will be restored, a perfect mate and material prosperity bestowed on each of them, and from then on they’ll fulfill a divine mandate to multiply and create a righteous race on this earth.

For many years before the First Great War, they had named 1914 as the date on which something tremendous would happen, although they deny that they claimed it would be the end of the world. Explaining this, they quote Matthew 24, where the disciples ask Jesus: “. . . and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?”

Answering them, Jesus foretold a time of wars and famines (that, the Witnesses say, obviously is now); and when that time comes, “This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled . .

“But of that day and hour, knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

This, they say, is proof positive that they could never have foretold the end of the world as being scheduled for 1914. That date, they say, they merely had worked out (by a rather complicated mathematical process) as being the beginning of the last great series of battles between God and Satan.

The Churches Disagree

All of the main Protestant churches disagree with most Witness beliefs (one minister called, them “evil and unchristian” recently) but some noted with slight satisfaction that most of the Witnesses’ big guns have been turned against the Roman Catholic church. This shouldn’t cause Protestant churches much comfort. The Witnesses call the Protestant church “weak and ineffective,” and say that because the Protestant church has quit protesting, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true remaining Protestants.

Despite opposition to most of the Witnesses’ gospel interpretations, Protestant churchmen have been prominent in proclaiming that the way the Witnesses have been treated in Quebec is a violation of the principle of free worship. In this they have been joined by various civil liberties groups, some unions, and hundreds of newspaper

editorial and letter writers across Canada.

Premier Duplessis has replied that Jehovah’s Witnesses are bent on setting the public against all civil and ecclesiastical authorities and therefore should be suppressed. His actions, he said, are to protect the majority of the province in social, religious and national peace.

His stand has been backed officially by the Roman Catholic church, which terms Witness literature “heretical propaganda,” which “profanes the Holy Scripture by fantastic and pernicious interpretations.” In more personal messages, priests warn from their pulpits each Sunday that Witness literature should be burned immediately when found in a Catholic home.

The present furore over the Witnesses in Quebec is being echoed around the world, mainly through the gigantic publishing and distribution system of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, in Brooklyn. Watchtower publishes in 88 languages, and from its eight-story factory building turns out more than iy¿ million books, 11 million pamphlets, 12 million magazines and 150,000 phonograph records every year. The Quebec campaign was subject of a leading article in the January issue of one of the main magazines, Awake.

The society has grown since 1872 from a few American Bible students led by Charles Taze Russell to 169,000 fulland part-time ministers (anyone who has passed the society’s Bible tests), and an estimated three million adherents all over the world. When Pastor Russell, the founder, died in 1916, presidency of the society was taken over by Judge J. F. Rutherford— “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” —and when Judge Rutherford died in 1942, Nathan H. Knorr, who had worked in the Brooklyn headquarters for more than 20 years, was named president. Knorr, with a board of eight directors, controls the society.

Zealots at $10 a Month

In addition to the factory, the society operates, in Brooklyn, a radio station and an eight-story apartment building for headquarters workers. The workers, from the president down, are paid $10 a month and are clothed from Witness tailor shops and fed from Witness-owned farms. The communal nature of this organization has led to charges that it is all a tremendous racket. There is no known proof of this. Pastor Russell, who once had been a wealthy haberdasher, left less than $100 when he died.

Annual income of the society has been estimated at between $1 million and $2 millions, but Roger Baldwin, an American lawyer who is one of the few outsiders ever to see the Witness books, said he believes most of the income is dispersed in supporting Witnesses and in paying huge legal fees.

From this headquarters in Brooklyn, the affairs of the society’s 52 branch offices are directed. Workers in branch offices receive the same $10 monthly as the Brooklyn Witnesses, and there are two other types of allowance paid. Missionaries abroad receive upward of $25 a month in addition to their lodging. Special pioneers, such as the workers in Quebec, men and women who leave their homes to spread their gospel elsewhere, are allowed $25 a month. Not all Witnesses collect their allowances—many prefer to get along on their own resources and contributions.

The campaign in Quebec is planned in detail on the spot, but with constant reference on general policy to ruddyfaced, hefty Percy Chapman, Englishborn director of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada. His official title is

“branch servant,” and his headquarters is at 40 Irwin Street in Toronto, a neat two-story building with an office at the front and living quarters in the rear for the more than 20 Witnesses who donate their talents to Jehovah as stenographers, linotype operators, bookkeepers, cooks, and chambermaids for $10 a month. In addition to keeping in touch with the 12,000 füllend part - time ministers in regional “companies” across Canada (each headed by a “company servant”) the function of this office is to supervise distribution of literature and to oversee the work of the Witness farm at Orangeville, Ont., which supplies much of the branch’s food.

Because of their constant brushes with the law (not only in Quebec either) one of the most strenuous jobs in the organization is that of Glen How of Toronto, who is general counsel for Canada. How is 27 years old, unmarried, and became interested in this work during his last few years in Osgoode Hall, Toronto, Where he graduated in law in 1943. His mother has been an active Witness for 25 years. His brother, John Maynard How, has been working as a full-time gospel spreader for the last 10 months in Quebec city.

They Changed Their Name

There are four main methods of spreading the gospel according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. One is by streetcorner offering of books, magazines and tracts (they prefer, but do not demand, payment) ; another by door-to-door calls for the same purpose; a third by Bible studies in the homes of interested people; and the fourth by meeting and discussing and studying the Bible in “Kingdom Halls,” which sometimes are owned but more often rented. The Witnesses until 1931 called themselves members of the International Bible Students Association, a name which has been used less and less recently.

There are proportionately more Witnesses in the West than in any other part of the Dominion. Mr. Chapman estimates there is one for every 500 of population in western Canada.

A fairly typical recent convert is 24-year-old Phyllis Rees of Vancouver, who quit her job as a telegrapher about a year ago to become a full-time Witness. Her education, senior matriculation, is better than the average for Witnesses in Canada, and she’s a normally popular girl, although she says that she would marry only if it wouldn’t interfere with her work as a Witness. Like many other Witnesses, she drinks occasionally (there are biblical precedents). The rules discourage, hut don’t forbid, smoking.

She puts in about a seven-hour day in door calls and street corner work, is allowed to retain almost all financial return for pamphlets and books which she sells for five cents a booklet and 25 cents a book. The price at which she buys this literature from the society varies, depending on how cash contributions have been, and sometimes it is given to her free. Like all Witnesses, she merely suggests a price. If a person is interested but does not want to pay, she gives the literature away for nothing. Like other Witnesses she usually is met in her door calls by indifference, occasionally blasted verbally as a nuisance, but doesn’t let it dampen her zeal. Remarkably few quit this work once they’ve started.

If she keeps on doing good work and studying she may eventually reach the status of a special pioneer, which is the next step up. Most of the Witnesses working in Quebec now are special pioneers, having passed rigid tests on

Bible texts and consecrated themselves formally by immersion (baptismi to devote their lives to this work.

One of the best-known of these “pioneers” in Canada is 25-year-old John Maynard (nicknamed “Joe”) How. He left his own farm in Ontario nearly two years ago to work full-time as a pioneer. He first became interested in Witness work when he was studying at the Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph.

He is of medium height, well-built, good-looking, wears either a tweed suit or a quiet sports jacket, spectacles (which were broken recently when he was attacked on a Quebec street) and worked for Jehovah a year in Montreal before going to Quebec about 10 months ago. As this is written, he has been sentenced to eight months in jail on three counts, but is free on bail pending an appeal, and is living in Quebec city at the home of Orner Coté and his wife. The Cotés were converted last summer from Catholicism. Mrs. Coté in her youth had spent 10 years in a convent. They have one child, who is being brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness.

Joe How is typical of the handpicked men and women, most of them in their twenties, who are being trained as the Witnesses’ future leaders. He spends most of his time studying, and acts as lieutenant to Pete Headworth, the small, intense, sandy-haired man who is company servant in Quebec city.

It was while sentencing How last December that Recorder Jean Mercier in Quebec City was reported to have said that if he could, he would sentence How to life. He later denied making that statement which aroused a nation-wide editorial storm.

How feels he has been persecuted, but feels no animosity toward those he holds are his persecutors. “There is still time for them to find the Truth,” he said. “Look at the apostle Paul. At first he organized persecution of Christ Jesus, but later he smartened up and became a true follower.”

“Like the Disciples . .

He draws a close parallel between the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christ’s disciples. “Like the disciples, we are strolling ministers, calling from door to door, farm to farm, village to village. Like the disciples also, the Witnesses suffer stones and taunts of the mob. If it came to offering our lives, we’d do so, as Christ Jesus did.”

One afternoon I went with How on some calls generally made by Laurier Saumur, 25-year-old former Catholic who was in jail at the time. One was at the home of an electrician, named Lortie, who with his wife and her brother were recent converts and had been cut off by most of their friends and relatives. Lortie previously had belonged to a close-knit family of 19 brothers and sisters.

Mrs. Lortie told of receiving some Jehovah’s Witness literature a few months before. She phoned the priest immediately and he told her to bum it. She became curious, read it, and left the church. Now she and her brother sit up until three and four every morning reading, mainly Jehovah’s Witness literature and the Bible. She said she never had been so happy.

Her four-year-old son has fastened on the millennium foretold in the 11th chapter of Isaiah, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lion . . . and a little child shall lead them.” The little boy, for his part of the kingdom, wants an elephant for a pet. He assured his mother that when God’s Kingdom comes, it would be easier to find him when he is playing outside. “Just look

for the elephant, maman,” he said, “and I’ll be there.’’

That Sunday night was the big event of the week for Witnesses in Quebec— the meeting at which the latest edition of “La Tour de Garde,” the Frenchlanguage Watchtower magazine, would be studied. How gave me an address in lower-town Quebec and told me if. would be best if I had the taxi driver stop a block or so away from the house, which 1 did.

The Commando Witness

How opened the door as soon as I stepped on the porch, before I knocked, and closed it rapidly after me. It was the home of Dick Matthieu, a former Commando who took part in the raid on St. Nazaire in 1941. Matthieu is a tall handsome man who says he had sought for a belief that would restore his strength and desire to live after years of war. He found it, he says, in Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Because nobody will rent the Jehovah’s Witnesses a hall in Quebec city, Matthieu has turned over his home for meetings.

About 45 people were crowded into Matthieu’s big kitchen. In front* of the gathering stood Amedée Dufour, who quit his job as a branch manager of the Banque Canadienne Nationale in Montreal in 1932 to become a full-time Witness. Since then thousands of housewives all through Ontario and Quebec have opened kitchen doors to listen to him, or slammed them in his face. He’s 47.

The first part of the meeting took the same form as the informal book study groups individual Witnesses hold in the homes of people just becoming interested in the work. Dufour acted as chairman. He asked Orner Coté to read the first question, on some passages in Leviticus.

“Qu'est-ce qui fut typifié par le bélier pour l'holocauste?” (“What did the burnt offering of the ram stand for?”)

Dufour asked a man named Georges

in the audience to give the answer, and, remaining seated, Georges began: “7/C sacrifice offert par Jesus pour /'expiation des péchéf . . .” (“The sacrifice of Jesus in atonement for the sins . . .”)

This part, of the service, a dozen questions and answers, lasted for about an hour. Then a few left . Those who were studying to be ministers of the society remained. Joe How conducted this part of the meeting—instruction how to write a clear letter so they would be able to make reports properly in their monthly letters to the society. Then two of the students made sixminute talks to accustom them to speak to an audience. Two others, Laurier Saumur, a former Catholic, and Gerald Barry, son of an Anglican minister, had been assigned talks but were absent—in jail.

Then, with Dufour translating, Headworth closed the meeting.

“I generally assign the talks for next week now,” Headworth began.

“. . . pour la semaine prochaine,” followed Dufour.

“. . . but since we don’t know from one week to the next who is going to be in jail ...”

“. . . dans la jug . . .” Dufour said solemnly. It got a big laugh. Even those of them who speak only French know what the “jug” is.

Officially, Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer not to measure progress in terms of converts, because their basic duty, they believe, is “to spread the word of the coming Kingdom, not force people to heed it.” However, in the last 18 months the Quebec congregation has grown from one to 200. In Montreal, hundreds of Montrealers of all religions have become Witnesses.

And, the Witnesses say, the battle is just beginning. Sometime about now 66 Witnesses are taking a five-month course at the 700-acre Watchtower Bible School of Gilead near Ithaca, N.Y. Those who cannot speak French now are studying it. And when the course is over, along about July, most of the 66 will be going to Quebec. ★