A Toronto mother is speaking out about a Quebec treatment facility she sent her drug-addicted son to, which turned out to be run by Scientologists.
"I feel fooled. I really thought they were going to be able to help me. And help him," said Yvonne Keller. "Instead, they just put this kid right back where he started from."
In December, Keller paid $10,000 to send her 22-year-old son Daniel to a Trois-Rivières treatment centre, which is part of the Narconon group.
Its website does not make it obvious, however, Narconon uses the teachings of Scientology in its treatment facilities. It has former addicts in every Canadian city answering the crisis lines and doing intakes. Narconon has several facilities worldwide, but the main one in Canada is in Trois-Rivières.
"I don't want my money going to that church," said Keller.
A week after her son arrived at the treatment centre, Narconon staff rejected him from the program and put him on a bus back to Toronto, penniless and alone. Keller hasn't been able to get her money back and said her son is now back on the street.
Sent home by bus
"They had my son in their care for six days and basically put him on a bus … which frustrated me greatly," said Keller. "I speak with [Daniel] every day now and basically he is homeless."
Keller said before she sent her son to Quebec, she could find no public treatment available for him in Ontario or any other province. She said lack of treatment beds has been a huge obstacle for years.
"It's horrible. You feel broken. You feel helpless. Powerless," she said. "I can't go to my own country and get help for my own child for these problems in regulated and safe institutions."
She was referred to Narconon by a self-help line run by former addicts. In desperation, she said she paid a Narconon "interventionist" $2,500 and bought plane tickets for him to take Daniel to Quebec.
"I had to put [the $10,000 initial treatment fee] on my credit card, and that's what I did," said Keller.
While Daniel was at the treatment centre, Keller said he harmed himself by cutting his arms with a knife and he managed to get access to rubbing alcohol, which he drank.
"He was supposed to be under 24-hour supervision, which clearly he wasn't," said Keller. "An addict who is in a withdrawal unit needs to be extremely carefully supervised and I'm not sure they were capable."
Son didn't qualify
Andre Ahern, director of legal affairs at Narconon Trois-Rivières, said Keller's son simply didn't qualify for the program, because when he arrived he was in a psychotic state. He said the facility is set up to treat addictions, not mental illness.
"We are very sorry for him. We are very, very sorry for him. But you know what, we are not responsible for his condition when he came — for sure," said Ahern.
He said Narconon had to choose between sending Daniel home or calling police, because he was very disruptive. As soon as staff agreed to let him go home, Ahern said, Daniel settled right down.
"We made sure when we put him on the bus, he was cooled down," said Ahern.
He said he is a Scientologist and that Narconon uses the teachings of Scientology in its program. However, he said, that is simply because they are extremely effective.
"Since 2002, I have seen 1,200 [addicts] graduate drug-free," said Ahern. "We are not looking at what is politically correct, we are looking at what gives good results."
However, former Narconon employee David Love said the facility is simply a front to recruit vulnerable people into Scientology, while collecting fees — up to $30,000 for the whole program — from the addict's families.
"The idea is to get them to Narconon. Once they're in and their mother, their father, their family has paid thousands of dollars, or the whole $30,000, once they get them in, that's the key," said Love.
It's a cult: ex-staffer
"The indoctrination into Scientology begins when you arrive at Narconon … It is 100% cult sect." he said. "Religious indoctrination, right out of the Scientology textbooks."
Scientology essentially teaches that humans are immortal and need to find their true nature. The Church of Scientology is also controversial, because it's been accused of being a cult that mistreats members while taking their money.
Scientology also does not support psychiatry or medication, so Love said addicts who go to Narconon treatment centres are not given any prescription drugs or conventional treatment.
"There was one patient, a young fellow, and they took away his meds and he jumped out the second-floor window and tried to commit suicide," said Love.
He said families and addicts who call the number on the Narconon website will likely speak to an ex-addict, who is paid to recruit people into treatment.
"These people who are running these websites, if they refer directly to Narconon, they'll receive 10 per cent for the $30,000 Narconon fee — so they'll get $3,000."
He said it's not unusual for addicts to get sent home on a bus, if staff can't control or indoctrinate them.
Ahern said he doesn't track what happens to most people after they leave the Trois-Rivières program, however, he said he only knows of three people who converted to Scientology. He also said staff tell patients they are free to practice whatever religion they chose, while there.
"It's a non-medical, non-religious, drug-free rehab centre – it's the only thing I can say," said Ahern. "Every student … you have the right to practice your religion, any religion you have."
As a result of CBC News inquiries, Ahern promised Yvonne Keller will soon get all or most of her $10,000 back, after the paperwork is processed.
"She will get her money back for sure," he said.
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