Church was Sun-burned

Canoe, Canada/October 28, 2007

Bonokoski feature story brought lawsuits -- and clandestine activities

I'm going to take you back to my early days as a lawyer. It was the mid-to-late 1970s. I was working at Eddie Goodman's firm, Goodmans. David Stockwood (for my money one of the top civil litigators in Toronto for the past 30-plus years) ran the litigation department.

For some reason he trusted me to handle the litigation for an upstart, feisty little paper that was still growing, the Toronto Sun. It had hungry journalists and none was hungrier -- and few had bigger hair -- than Mark Bonokoski.

Bono had written a fabulous 12-part series of articles about Scientology. That was in the days before Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta had embraced it. He called it a cult. He exposed its origins and its founder, former science fiction writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. He wrote about the infamous E-meter (two tin cans and a battery used to measure responses to questions -- it is now much more sophisticated), and Scientology tapes and books (sold for a not-so-modest price) that extolled the virtue of becoming an operating thetan (don't ask).

The Church of Scientology sued the Sun and Bono. Three or four times in short order, as I recall. Some Scientologist managed to intercept a letter sent by Bonokoski to a colleague in a Florida paper. Bono sued the Church for this invasion of privacy.

The Sun files on Scientology disappeared. It was feared a Scientologist had taken the file. Years later I learned a Scientologist got a job at my law firm and took copies of documents from my files at night -- the young lady pleaded guilty to theft, but I digress.

The litigation between the Church of Scientology and the Sun was hard fought. On one occasion, Bono was spirited away to the Windsor Arms Hotel to prevent a process server from finding him to serve an injunction motion. If you knew what Bono looked like back then you'd know the Windsor Arms was the last place anyone would look for him.

It may have been a coincidence but I received hang up calls in the middle of the night most nights before I was to appear in court the next morning to do battle with the Church's lawyers.

Other newspapers had written their own exposes and there was a report of a lawyer in the States finding a snake in his mail box one day. It was a tense time.

It was with all of this going on that I found myself working on one of the many Scientology lawsuits one Saturday afternoon in my office on the 15th floor of a Bay Street office tower. I was all alone on the floor as far as I could tell. I heard the sound of glass crashing. I ran to the hall and peered into the next office only to see a man trying to break into the office through the outside window. Did I mention I was on the 15th floor? The only thing I could think was some deranged Scientologist was trying to get me.

Panic stricken I raced to the elevator, waited an eternity, or so it seemed, until I could get on the elevator and run to the lobby. There I announced a man was trying to break into my office on the 15th floor. I sheepishly learned it was a window washer whose scaffold was slipping. He had to break through the glass to save himself.

I went back to my office red-faced and later made the mistake of telling Stockwood what happened. He couldn't stop laughing. "Did you ever stop to think that if they really wanted to get you there were easier ways than to break through a glass window 15 stories up?"

So here we are, about 30 years later. The Church of Scientology seems to be thriving. They've got a lot of A-list Hollywood stars as members. The Sun has a new lawyer but Bono is still at it, just as energetic as in the '70s. Maybe it's time for another series, Bono.

Who knows, maybe this time I'll be a defendant with you.

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