Flak is flying at Concordia University this week over the school's decision to allow an exhibition sponsored by the Church of Scientology.
University officials have been bombarded with email. Protesters have put together a YouTube video of the show and yesterday staged a demo outside the McConnell library building - where the exhibition is being held till Sunday - to register their objections. The exhibition was sponsored by the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights, which is affiliated with the Church of Scientology.
Founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology promotes a message of self-help that has gained powerful supporters - particularly in Hollywood, where celebrity members include Tom Cruise and John Travolta. But the organization's reputation for secrecy and control over its recruits has also spawned fierce, if often covert, opposition.
In a written reply to this week's email complaints, Concordia vice-president Michael Di Grappa defended the decision to allow the group to book space in the library building, although he said he does not "personally agree with the positions taken by the leadership of the Church of Scientology."
Concordia officials were unable to say whether they were aware of the connection between CCHR and the Church of Scientology when they agreed to let them set up on campus. Di Grappa said the booking followed standard procedure and Scientology is a recognized religion and charitable organization.
"We are motivated by our commitment to ensuring the university is a place where individuals and groups have the freedom to present their ideas and perspectives, whether we agree with them or not, in a civil and respectful manner," Di Grappa said.
"There is an expectation that the exhibit will respect the spirit of our commitment to academic freedom. It is a precondition of any event on our campus that the emphasis will be and at all times will remain on the respectful discussion and debate of possibly opposing positions in a secure, collegial environment."
One critic saw the exhibition as a ploy to sign up recruits. "I don't care if they try to recruit people on the streets, but this cannot happen inside our school," a student said in an email which did not provide a name.
"I am offended when I hear those comments," said Richer Dumais, head of the CCHR's Montreal chapter. He said the CCHR was founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969 and has a common purpose.
Dumais said the exhibition, which looks critically at psychiatry and such medication as Ritalin, is not a church event and there has been no attempt to convert anyone.