Sep 26, 2016

Steve Cannane's book reveals disturbing new claims about the Church of Scientology

SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Gavin Fernando

IN 2008, Jose Navarro was sent to Australia as a form of punishment.

It was 15 years after the then-35-year-old Venezualan joined the Church of Scientology, where he worked aboard the church’s luxury cruise ship Freewinds as a chef.

His crime? He ended up falling in love with a fellow trainee on the ship.

The woman in question was working on the ship as punishment, and the authorities of the church forbade them from engaging during this period.

When it was discovered they subsequently had premarital sex regardless, Navarro was told he would be sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), a correctional centre in Australia.

Only after he arrived here did he learn the woman had been pregnant with their child and, he claims, forced to have an abortion on the Freewinds.

Navarro, meanwhile, was taken to the church-operated Sea Org centre in Dundas, a suburb in Sydney’s north-west.

He claimed he worked gruelling 12-14 hour days, seven days a week, doing labour work which included sanding floors, cleaning bathrooms, painting, plastering, moving rocks and cleaning out maggot-ridden dumpster bins.

If targets were not met, members were forced to do push-ups or run up and down stairs. Some of these members were in their 60s.

According to Navarro, they were shut off from the outside world. They were not allowed access to television, books or the outside media.

They were forced to wear dark clothing and were forbidden from initiating conversation.

It wasn’t until 2010, two and a half years after he was detained at the RPF, that the man escaped the church after he was relocated to its Glebe building.

Terrified that police would find him and return him to the church — given he was tied to them on a Religious Worker visa and they had his passport — Navarro spent a week living and sleeping in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens.

He quickly used up the $30 he had in his pocket, and, by his fourth day, was eating nothing but the grass he slept on to survive. Afraid of being caught, he refused to beg for money or even scrounge through bins for foodscraps.

By pure chance, Navarro eventually ran into a woman who had also escaped from the church, and she helped to put a roof over his head and get his belongings back from the church.

Eventually, he secured a protection visa and permanent residency in Australia, he says on the grounds that he was a victim of human trafficking.


Jose Navarro’s story is just one of many explosive accounts detailed in ABC journalist Steve Cannane’s new book, Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia.

Following years of research and hundreds of interviews, Cannane looks at how the religion has been used as an alleged breeding ground for horrific intimidation tactics and human rights abuses right here in Australia.

He told the Fair Game title refers to the code of conduct implemented by the Church to deal with its perceived enemies in the 1960s.

In 1967, the Church’s founder L.Ron Hubbard wrote that opponents of the Church who are “fair game” could be “deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”

In a subsequent memo, he forbade members of the Church from referring to the policy in public due to the bad publicity, but according to Cannane, he gave permission to members to continue using the same tactics.

The original memo is still available online.

But the church vehemently denies all abuse allegations, including that of human trafficking. To this day, it maintains the centre Navarro was forced to stay in is a voluntary religious retreat.


Cannane told there are two distinct groups of people who typically become members of the Church.

The first, of course, is those who are born into it. He said they’re brought up believing the Church’s policies and regulations are normal, and find it difficult to get out because of the Church’s alleged policy of “disconnection” with the family.

Disconnection is a practice within Scientology which involves cutting all ties and communication with anyone who has been deemed antagonistic towards the church and its teachings.

The practice is readily acknowledged on the church’s website.

The second group of members, according to Cannane, consists of those who are recruited at a stage in life when they’re vulnerable.

“They’re either young and idealistic and want to make the world a better place, or they’re people who are brought in through self-help,” he said.

“They say they can cure your problems. It could be anything from anxiety and depression to drug addiction to a sports injury — they claim they can fix anything.

“L.Ron Hubbard used to say ‘Find their ruin’. Find their weakspot, their vulnerability — work away at that.”

Last month, a journalist took the church’s “free” personality test, and was told she scored highly in the depressed, irresponsible, unstable and withdrawn categories.

A volunteer member then asked her probing questions about her childhood and personal life, before recommending a series of costly courses and books to “heal” her.

Cannane wasn’t surprised by the result they gave her.

“I’d love to know if anyone’s ever gone into a Scientology centre and been told, ‘Hey, you actually seem to be in a really good place,’” he said. “It’s all about exploitation.”


Cannane says Scientology is continuing on a backward trend in Australia, and it’s largely thanks to the internet.

The Church has claimed it has 150,000 members here, but according to the 2011 census, it has a declining population of 2163 members in Australia, down from 2507 in 2006.

“The internet has killed their business model,” explained Cannane.”

“They were ... reliant on secrets and self-control and they used copyright to hide their secret scriptures. But that’s all been put on the internet now. People can look it up and see exactly what it actually is.

“Also, they used to be able to control the media through defamation actions and putting journalists under investigation, but with the internet, suddenly every horror story is out there.” has contacted the Church of Scientology for comment, and has not received a response at the time of publication.

However, in a statement to Daily Mail Australia the church said the book was “like a hate crime generating prejudice, malice and potential aggression” against the organisation, accusing Cannane of “proselytising religious intolerance and hatred”.

It dismissed the book’s claims as “falsehoods”, “ludicrous” and “(having) no basis in fact”.

But Cannane stressed to his book is not about religious intolerance or attacking a system of beliefs. “It’s not about beliefs, it’s about behaviour,” he said. “Freedom of religion is incredibly important in a democracy.

“But what other religion operates like this? One Church of Scientology ex-member was spied on for decades and it cost over $10 million to put this person under surveillance.

“Now how can they justify that? What religion uses private investigators and spends millions of dollars on investigating and intimidating people?”

He also said he had “no doubt” the organisation would come after him following the book’s publication.

On the bright side, at least, he said Navarro is leading a much happier life now.

Navarro told Cannane he now works in a top restaurant, has a beautiful girlfriend and can speak his mind.

“He can watch TV when he feels like it, go to bed when he wants, and knock back a few cold beers after work.

“He is paid properly and has access to healthcare.

“He is a free man.”


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