Scientology critic leaves country before deportation

Brantford Expositor (Canada)/September 16, 2005
By Susan Gamble

Local News - Keith Henson -- the anti-Scientologist engineer who ran to Canada from foes in the U.S. -- lost his fight to stay in this country last week.

He was to be deported on Wednesday.

But Henson refused to co-operate with plans that called for him to be transferred at the border and, instead, quietly left Brantford on Tuesday, without an escort.

“I’m not going to be shoved across the border into the hands of Scientologists,” Henson said last week as he began packing.

“I’ll go to the border somewhere else, hand in my papers and disappear, preferably to a state where you can legitimately shoot bounty hunters.”

Henson believes he has valid reason for his concerns.

For years, Henson sniped against and picketed Scientologist in California, ending up in court cases but with a huge following on the Internet.

He came to Canada in 2001 after being bankrupted by his fight -- which cost the Scientologists $1.4 million -- convicted of interfering with a religion and sentenced to the maximum of a year in jail. Henson chose to skip to Canada.

The Scientologists, he says, labelled him a child molester and a self-proclaimed bomb expert, comparing him to bomber Timothy McVeigh, and says they hinted that he wouldn’t survive jail.

Scientologists tipped off Toronto-area police about the “dangerous fugitive” in 2001 which led to a bizarre SWAT-like take-down at a mall where Henson was arrested and held in maximum security for 12 days.

He’s been quietly living in Brantford, waiting for results of his request to become a refugee here. He was officially turned down at the end of 2004, but Henson continued to hope that raising the issue politically might save him from a return to the U.S.

“I simply think that if I go across the border as planned, the Scientologists would meet me,” Henson said last week.

He fears what could happen to a vocally anti-Scientologist critic put in a California jail.

But Henson had no fears of arrest by the U.S. authorities at the border.

“They’re not interested in me at all. I’ve got a clear record with the FBI and I’m not being extradited, just deported.”

Henson’s wife, Arel Lucas came to Canada legitimately and eventually got a job here.

But she wasn’t remaining in Canada while Henson got the boot.

“We were settled here and this is where we’ve been living for almost three years,” Lucas said as she took pictures down from the wall of her and Henson’s Henry Street apartment.

“This fight has ruined us financially. They (Scientologists) have made it as tough for us as they possibly could.”

At one point, when immigration officers came for a surprise interview with Lucas, they told her it was in response to an anonymous tip.

Lucas seemed resigned as she packed last week.

“For much of my life I’ve lived on the edge of something,” she said grimly. “But it’s getting stressful at my age living in a situation where we don’t know what will happen.”

The Scientologists are suing Lucas for her half of her and Henson’s former home in the U.S. as part of her husband’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“I feel we should be standing up to (them) because, when you talk to former members who have lost everything, we know they’re the people we’re fighting for,” said Lucas.

Pat Felske, a Scientologist spokesperson from the Toronto branch of the group said Thursday she was pleased to hear Henson has complied with the deportation order.

“We trust he’ll report to the appropriate authorities in the U.S. and take responsibility for his actions and not remain a criminal fugitive from justice,” Felske said.

“I’d like to see him resolve matters.”Henson was working locally with a temporary permit while his case was evaluated.

He was preparing to do some work for local businessman Frank Hader when he had to leave Brantford.

“I’m in the electronics business and it’s difficult to find a good engineer,” Hader complained Wednesday.

“Here we’ve got someone who can contribute to things and we escort them to the border. He’s a brilliant engineer.”

But Henson didn’t get escorted to the border.

Because he opted to cross on his own terms, he may have a problem, should he ever return to this country.

Anna Pate, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, the group that enforces deportations, says that without an escort taking Henson to the border, there’s no proof he left the country.

“Generally speaking, when you have a deportation order,” said Pate, “if it’s not confirmed, it’s not considered enforced. So a warrant could be issued and if he comes back, he could be arrested.”

Henson wouldn’t say where he was headed, although he admitted that Arizona was a good possibility due to the tough laws about bounty hunters.

“I would fear bounty hunters.”

He’s leaving behind a criminal case that he began after a private investigator bumped Henson with his van. The P.I. had been following Henson and videotaping him.

The engineer worked hard to find who had hired the P.I. but was stalled after finding the investigator had been contracted by yet another private investigation firm.

He’s hoping the Crown attorney will continue to pursue the assault charges, even though Henson has left the country.

The engineer chuckled at the irony of his situation.

“Consider the guy who’s a terrorist who’s been living here for years! They’re getting rid of me and I’m actually useful!”

The Expositor has not been able to contact Henson or Lucas since their departure on Tuesday.

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