Canadian News

Freedom to worship and die?

Judith Timson December 4 1978
Canadian News

Freedom to worship and die?

Judith Timson December 4 1978

Freedom to worship and die?

Canadian News

While the ultimate public nightmare about kinky religious cults unfolded in Jonestown last week, Ontario Provincial Police had their own secretive religious retreat to investigate near Midland. It was not the first time the Fellowship of Christians and their commune, Wyevale Mill, in the Georgian Bay cottage belt, had gained notoriety: in September 29-year-old Philip Blake, a farm laborer who had been living there with his 26-year-old wife, Cheryl, and their two children, died in a diabetic coma. He had undergone a “laying on of hands," his shocked relatives told an inquest, and had stopped his insulin treatments after being told at the retreat that they were not necessary. His wife, her faith still intact, had remained on at Wyevale Mill after his death, losing a great deal of weight and apparently forgoing her own medication for a thyroid condition. When her mother, Betty Foster, recently made several attempts, on the strength of a family court order, to recover the Blake’s two children (Kenneth, V/2, and Christopher, 3V2) she was unable to reach them—or even talk with their mother. For her pains, she was charged with trespassing.

Her concerns were echoed by ex-commune member Ron Hughes, who operates a Christian bookstore in the area. Hughes said he had joined the commune searching for something spiritually bigger than himself but had left, after eight months, convinced that leader Hector Haynes was using “mind control” on the 20 or so inhabitants. Hughes told of “rebuking sessions" and an atmosphere of “extreme paranoia” within the compound. “I felt I was losing my identity. They run you down physically, mentally

and spiritually. I have always had a healthy fear of God but inside there I developed a sick fear.”

However wrenching to those personally involved, the Wyevale Mill story was just one more sad entry into a file in the attorney-general’s department thick with descriptions of those seekers of the way, the truth and the light who have disappeared

into various cults and sects never to be seen again, or have emerged psychologically-disturbed. The Guyana horrors alone did not generate public unrest about such cults in Ontario; five weeks ago, responding to public pressure, the provincial government appointed civil libertarian Daniel Hill to study available information and decide whether a public inquiry should be held. After the saga of the People’s Temple, the answer seems in little doubt.

Judith Timson