Research Branch

Written and Compiled by Susan Alter
Law and Government Division

September 15, 1992



The shunning or harassment of former Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) by active members of the sect is behaviour that is mandated by the Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses' church (officially titled "The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society"). Shunning has been known to cause sever emotional distress to estranged [Jehovah's] Witnesses, occasionally even leading to their suicides. Church-decreed ostracism of ex-JWs (former JWs) will be the subject of this paper. In particular disfellowship[ping] and shunning practices will be outlined, and remedial actions which might be taken to deal with them will be discussed. The discussion will conclude that legal approaches to solving this problem, unfortunately, so far have been quite ineffectual. Support groups which offer peer and professional counselling to [former Jehovah's] Witnesses, ... would seem to constitute more immediate and effective relief for this social ill.


The J[ehovah's] W[itnesses] community is a closed one. Members are not encouraged to socialize outside their religious circle, and they are discouraged from developing interests outside their community. For example, they are advised not to seek a higher education, or to pursue private pastimes such as hobbies.(1) As a result, Witnesses, like other sect members, derive their sense of community and self from their shared theological beliefs:

"A sense of community emerges from shared theological beliefs which provides a locus of interaction for people with similar value systems. Common religious doctrine enables people to 'define a situation' in a similar manner thus reinforcing their camaraderie and friendship. From a sense of community emerges an identification of self."(2)

The community is so insular that one former influential leader described it as "hermetically sealed."(3) Numerous religious beliefs bind this community together. Probably the most familiar ones are that [Jehovah's] Witnesses cannot accept blood transfusions and cannot sing national anthems. These beliefs are based on [the WatchTower Cult's] interpretations of the scriptures. Other beliefs which they hold and which set them apart from other Christian religions include the following:

- Jehovah alone is God. The Trinity doctrine is Satanic.
- Only Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians.
- The Bible is only understandable to Jehovah's Witnesses.
- Only 144,0OO are elect for heaven.... The rest of mankind [i.e. JWs] will be given eternal life on paradise earth.
- The end of the world system [the apocalypse] is to come during the generation of those alive in 1914. (Until 1975 came and went, it was the year pinpointed by the Watch Tower Society for the apocalypse.)
- Those of the 144,OOO who died previous to 1918 were taken to heaven that year, while those who die subsequent to 1918 go to heaven at death. All others await the resurrection, being in "soul sleep. "
- Hell is mankind's common grave. Eternal punishment is not true, since there will be annihilation of the wicked.
- The soul is not immortal.(4)


In the past there were two ways a [Jehovah's] Witness could leave the faith. One could leave his or her [local] Congregation [of Jehovah's Witnesses] and the [national] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society voluntarily. Such an exit was described as "disassociation."(5) It meant a [Jehovah's] Witness could bow out quietly, and no sanctions were associated with such a departure.(6) It is estimated that between 1969 and 1979, close to one million members quietly dropped out of the [WatchTower Cult].(7)

The other way to exit was by expulsion or excommunication; a process the [Jehovah's] Witnesses refer to as "disfellowshipping". Disfellowshipping is a formal process for expelling dissenting or immoral members from both their [local] congregation and the [national] Watch Tower Society. A formal hearing is held at the member's Kingdom Hall by a committee of church elders called a "judicial committee." The member is summoned to appear and the "judicial committee" acts as judge, jury and prosecutor of the [JW].(8) Originally, disfellowshipping occurred in cases of basic immorality (adultery, drunkenness, etc.); but, over the years, the acts demanding disfellowshipping increased significantly to include less obviously immoral offenses, such as associating with disfellowshipped members or in any way expressing doubt over the tenets of the faith.(9)The quasijudicial procedure employed by the church to cast out undesirables is considered to be very unfair by many who have been exposed to it first hand. Due process or the rules of natural justice are completely ignored, leading one prominent ex-JW to characterise it as a "kangaroo court with the trappings of the [Spanish] Inquisition [of the 1400s]."(10)

Recently, the rules regarding how a person may leave the J[ehovah's] W[itnesses] have been modified. Prior to 1991, people could leave the organization voluntarily and quietly by disassociating themselves. Since 1991, however, long-ago disassociated members have been reporting that the Watch Tower Society is seeking them out and presenting them with the "opportunity" (i.e., an ultimatum) to rejoin the fold, or be disfellowshipped. As [former] members, they are not up-to-date with the latest doctrinal declarations from the Watch Tower Society, so they are not aware of the rationale behind this membership revival campaign. Some suspect the Watch Tower Society's size is seriously diminishing and it is desperate now for recruits. Others interpret the motive to be more sinister -- a concerted effort to further harass and intimidate former members.(11) 

Whatever the reasons, it appears that people can no longer leave the J[ehovah's] W[itnesses] quietly; they will have to face "disfellowshipping" if they fall away from the faith. Disfellowshipping carries with it harsh consequences for expelled members. The [Jehovah's] Witnesses' Governing Body requires that these members be ostracized or "shunned" by the [entire Jehovah's Witnesses] community, including their families and close friends. Those who defy this decree of the Watch Tower Society will face disfellowshipping themselves, and the eternal damnation which [Jehovah's]  Witnesses believe comes with disfellowshipping.(12) Shunning appears to be practised more rigorously and widely today than ever before in the history of the [WatchTower Cult].


Prior to September 1981, only disfellowshipped [former] JWs had to be shunned, and the degree of ostracism to be imposed by an active member on a [former] member was left to [the active] member's personal judgment. But, in September 1981, the Governing Body of the J[ehovah's] W[itnesses] ... issued stricter rules for "shunning", based on [their] scriptural interpretations which required absolute shunning of disfellowshipped members, and which required [all active Jehovah's Witnesses] to treat disassociated [former] members in the same manner as disfellowshipped members.(13) Certain historians attribute this tightening of the reins to the general paranoia and authoritarianism that gripped [WatchTower Cult] corporate headquarters after the apocalypse failed to materialise in 1975; a time when [rank and file Jehovah's Witnesses had begun] to question [disfellowshipping, shunning,] and other doctrines of the faith, and even to defect.(14)

Suddenly, [Jehovah's] Witnesses were to stop greeting practically all disfellowshipped persons; not even saying "hello" to them, and for the first time, family members were to cut any and all unnecessary ties with relatives [who were former members]. Although [JW] husbands and [JW] wives had to continue rendering marriage dues to disfellowshipped [spouses], and [JW] parents were to provide for their minor [disfellowshipped] children. [However,] as for disfellowshipped [former members not living with active JW relatives], they were to be treated in virtually the same way that any other excommunicated ones would be. [Adult former members were not permitted to live with active relatives -- only] except in cases of extreme illness or emergency ... . 

[Jehovah's] Witnesses were told: "We should keep clearly in mind the Bible's inspired direction: 'Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person ..., not even eating with such a man.'" Then, to make absolutely certain that no dissenter [of any variety] might continue to have ongoing association with [active] Jehovah's Witnesses, the Watchtower [Cult] proclaimed that the rules relating to disfellowshipped persons were to be applied also to those who had voluntarily resigned from the organization.(15)

[Former members'] reactions to shunning have ranged from sadness and frustration to chronic depression and suicide.(16) "Since a great deal of [a Jehovah's Witness's social] interaction can be located within the religious group, the sanctioning results in feelings of discontent, remorse, and rejection."(17) "Some [former Jehovah's Witnesses] still recoil in shame when they see [active] Jehovah's Witnesses on street corners or knocking on doors ... [and] even worse, ... is the severe depression that hits [former Jehovah's W]itnesses when they emerge into a world they've been taught is doomed."(18)

The specific effects of shunning are detailed in the articles and books listed in Appendix A to this paper: "Selected Materials on the Treatment of Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses".

[Former] J[ehovah's] W[itnesses] have been prevented from attending the weddings and funerals of [active JWs]; they have been treated as if they were invisible when they ran into [active JWs who once were] old friends; [JW] family members whom they phone have hung up on them; and they have been made the subjects of gossip and covert smear campaigns by [active] members of their former congregations. Some [former Jehovah's Witnesses] have reported more tangible harassment -- finding spit [and snot, as well as ill messages left in the dust] on their cars, and eggs smashed on their houses [, and trash and debis strewn on their lawns] ... ."(19)

The deep emotional pain experienced by [former Jehovah's Witnesses] is often not understood by mainstream society, because the general population does not realize either that the penalty exacted for "disassociation" or "disfellowshipping" is "shunning", or how significant the personal losses are felt by the individuals thus affected.(20)

An extract from the submission of a former JW to the Beaudoin-Dobbie Commission on a Renewed Canada, made late last year, provides a glimpse into the personal devastation these people feel:

"What value can be assigned to the friendships and fellowship an individual may cultivate, perhaps over a period of five, ten, twenty years, or more? Some value those cherished relationships no less than their own life. Those relationships are an investment of countless hours of time and energy in many cases. Should Corporate religious leaders ... be permitted to strip away all those values from an individual ...? Should there be no accountability to anyone by those who thus snatch away someone's religion, imposing ostracism on him or her, even by his or her own family memhers?(21)

The emotional healing process which [former Jehovah's Witnesses] must go through is being assisted somewhat by ... [online] criticism of the Watch Tower Society ... . Legal avenues of redress have proven to be much less effective than the self-help remedies which have emerged. The various remedial actions that are available to disfellowshipped and shunned Witnesses are discussed in the remaining parts of this paper.


A. Legal Avenues

Shunned [former] JWs who have been disfellowshipped have launched a variety of claims in the courts to challenge the legality of the disfellowshipping or shunning processes. Their claims, which are discussed in this part, have met with little success. The Jehovah's Witnesses have earned a reputation as champions of freedom of religion and expression [internationally,] and have developed a great deal of legal expertise in the process:

"The Jehovah's Witnesses are singular in Canadian religious history because of the number of important court decisions they have received. They have been persistent in their efforts to be fully free in the exercise of their religion. The Jehovah's Witnesses have mastered the legal system and used it repeatedly for the affirmation of their rights and the rights of other minority groups as well."(22)

In fact, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada, under its letters patent, identifies litigation as one of its corporate objects: "XI. To commence or defend legal proceedings to preserve freedom of religion, expression, assembly and press; to uphold the basic rule of law and the liberties provided in the Constitution of Canada; to protect any other interest of the corporation.(23)

Ironically, this legal expertise -- developed to protect the religious interests of Jehovah's Witnesses -- is turned against [former Jehovah's] Witnesses who attempt to sue the Watch Tower Society. In the United States, if a [former Jehovah's] Witness files a lawsuit for defamation against the corporate organization, legal counsel for the [WatchTower] Society ... will send a long list of legal precedents to the plaintiff enumerating previously unsuccessful actions [in order] to encourage the plaintiff to discontinue the proceedings, [to encourage opposing counsel to quit, and to lay the groundwork for their later seeking costs and expenses to oppose the lawsuit].(24)

In addition, the [WatchTower] Society [Branch] in Canada reported assets in excess of $35 million last year, so it is the type of corporate legal opponent for whom money is probably no barrier to the appeal process. Finally, adding to the generally disadvantaged position of those who decide to sue the Watch Tower Society, are two other circumstances: first, in most cases the jurisprudence is not on their side, and second, the courts are often reluctant to intervene in these types of [religion] cases, even if some legal precedents can be found to support the plaintiff's case.

Owing to the variety of cases and issues that can be raised to challenge the legality of disfellowshipping and shunning, the following discussion is intended to illustrate the types of actions and issues that could be, and sometimes already have been, raised. It is in no way a definitive examination of all the case law or legal questions that exist.

1. The Application of the Charter

Given that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, persons who are not familiar with the case law which has delineated the precise limits of the Charter's application might assume that the Charter would protect the religious freedom of ex-JWs from infringement by the Governing Body of the Watch Tower Society, or other active members. However, the courts have found that the Charter applies only to legislation and the actions of government -- not to the actions of private tribunals or private individuals (with one slight exception). Furthermore, the fact that a private, church body has been incorporated pursuant to government legislation has not been found to constitute a sufficient enough link to government to render that body's actions subject to the Charter.

The leading case on this point is Dolphin Delivezy.(26) In this case the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that an individual may not found a lawsuit or a defence against another individual on the basis of a breach of a Charter right. In other words, the Charter cannot be the basis for private litigation:

"The Charter, like most written constitutions, was set up to regulate the relationship between the individual and the Government. It was intended to restrain government action and to protect the [rights of the] individual [from infringement by the state]. It was not intended in the absence of some governmental action to be applied in private litigation."(27)

In the McKinney case, the Supreme Court of Canada, following Dolphin Delivery, ruled that the Charter did not apply to the actions of universities just because universities are funded and regulated by governments. It found that universities are private corporate bodies, created by statute but not subject to the Charter:

"The Charter was not intended to cover activities by nongovernmental entities created by government [through legislation] for legally facilitating private individuals to do things of their own choosing without engaging governmental responsibility."(28)

Based on the McKinney case, one can surmise that the Charter would not apply to the actions of a church, even one incorporated pursuant to legislation, such as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada. The decision of the Ontario Court (General Division) in United Church of Canada v. Anderson) supports this conclusion. Here the Court ruled that the property ownership rules of a church incorporated by statute were not subject to the Charter. Also, in the Reed case, the Federal Court ruled that the internal disciplinary hearings of the Jehovah's Witnesses were not activities to which the Charter's freedom of religion guarantees could be applied.(30) Reed was appealed unsuccessfully to th'e Federal Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a further appeal of the case.

An exception to the rule that the Charter does not apply to private litigants exists. It involves cases of private litigation. Although Dolphin Delivery made it clear that the Charter cannot be the basis for a lawsuit or a defence to a lawsuit between private litigants, it also indicated that the question of the application of the Charter to private litigants was separate from the question of whether the courts are bound to apply the common law in matters of private litigation, in a manner consistent with the fundamental values enshrined in the Charter. It noted that "the Charter is far from irrelevant to private litigants whose disputes fall to be decided at common law."(31)

The relevance of this obiter dictum in Dolphin Delivery became apparent recently in another ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. In the Salituro case, it ruled that since the rules of common law (judge-rnade law) are not static, and since judges can and should adapt the common law to reflect the changing social, moral, and economic fabric of the country, the courts are bound to modify the common law, in appropriate circumstances, to be in step with the Charter:

"Where the principles underlying a common law rule are out of step with the values enshrined in the Charter, the courts should scrutinize the rule closely. If it is possible to change the common law rule so as to make it consistent with Charter values, without upsetting the proper balance between judicial and legislative action ..., then the rule ought to be changed."(32)

In Salituro, the Supreme Court ruled that the common law rule of evidence, which prevents one spouse from appearing as a witness in court against the other spouse, was a violation of the dignity of the individual (protected under section 7 of the Charter) in cases where the two spouses are irreconcilably separated. Thus, the court modified the common law rule, to be in step with the Charter, and allowed the separated spouse to testify against her husband. The types of changes that the courts can make to the common law to ensure its compliance with the Charter, however, are only incremental changes, not sweeping changes, according to the Salituro decision. Therefore, the courts are not likely to make wholesale changes to the common law pursuant to the Charter -- this function is preserved for governments in their role as legislators.

Another question which may arise in the context of the Charter, and the final issue related to the Charter for the purposes of this discussion, is whether a judge who acts contrary to the Charter in making a decision in a relation to a private dispute is liable as an agent of the government. The answer would appear to be no.

This conclusion is supported by the decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal in the case of Royer v. Mignault, for which the Supreme Court of Canada later refused an application to appeal. In this case, the plaintiffs (lawyers) brought an action for damages against a trial judge for allegedly sullying their reputation with remarks made in court criticising their professional competency. They argued the judge's actions were those of an agent of the government and violated their rights to liberty and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter; therefore, they argued, the common law rule of judicial immunity which normally would protect a judge from liability for alleged defamation in his or her court should not be applied in this case. The Court ruled, following Dolphin Delivery, that the government actions to which the Charter applies cannot be interpreted to subject judges, acting in their judicial capacities, to liability for failing to respect the values enshrined in the Charter. To the extent that a judge fails to properly apply the provisions of the Charter in his or her ruling, the ruling should be appealed; but the judge cannot be sued directly for his or her mistake.(33)

2. The Application of Judicial Review Powers

Under the common law, the courts have the power to review the actions of administrative tribunals if the tribunals fail to observe the rules of natural justice (due process) and fairness. Consequently, people have applied to the courts on a number of occasions to ask them to review the actions of ecclesiastical tribunals, such as decisions to excommunicate members of the church, when they felt the decisions were not made fairly. The general rule which has evolved as a result of these cases is that the secular courts will not interfere with any decisions of ecclesiastical courts involving religious matters, unless the matter being considered also clearly involved secular issues, such as violations of property or civil rights. Matters of fellowship or church membership are considered by the courts to be religious matters, not civil rights -- that is "civil rights", in the Canadian constitutional sense of proprietary, contractual tortious rights, not civil rights, in the American constitutional sense, as a term synonymous with civil liberties.(34)

The civil courts' rule of non-interference in purely religious decisions is probably nowhere more fully and emphatically explained in Canadian jurisprudence than in the case of Reed v. The Queen. In Reed, the Court explained that because of this rule, it would not interfere with the processes of Jehovah's Witnesses "judicial committees" by declaring their internal disciplinary proceedings to be in violation of the Charter -- even if the Charter applied to these tribunals, which the Court found it did not. The words of Justice Muldoon are noteworthy, in their unabridged form:

"An apt description of Canada in political-legal terms is: a secular, federal, parliamentary democracy, with further definitional refinements being provided in the Constitution of Canada, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedorns, among several other texts both legislative and learned. Here, the principal concern is with the aspect of secularity. Canada is a secular state, with freedom of religion.

"A secular state must be distinguished from a theocratic state. In a theocratic state, the (usually the one and only permissible) church, temple, or mosque is the state, such that one can be punished upon the judgment of judicial clergy who are certifiably expert in state theology for disbelief or expression of opinion contrary to official dogma. The sentence is damnation, and the execution of the sentence not infrequently despatches the hapless convict irrevocably and purportedly thither, whether truly so, or not, no one ever knows for sure. A secular state with freedom of religion accords scope to the people, or more correctly, the people assert their right, to establish and adhere to their own beliefs, which when organized by many individuals, usually evince private systematic theocracy. In law no one is compelled to be a membr or believer, and equally no one is compelled to remain a member or believer. In such religious communities, a disciplinary tribunal might well condemn some contending member or believer to damnation, but the secular state does not lend its servants to the execution of the sentence, nor does such state condemn anyone to damnation or to any lesser perdition.]

"On fact, in any collision between religious practice and secular law, the secular state will jealously enforce its criminal law and other public law despite religious claims or objections. Indeed, when, as sometimes happens, congregations fall to quarrelling less ethereally and more materialistically over property, the legal title or possession of which is a matter of law, the courts of these secular states, wherein are included the provinces of Canada, will undertake to resolve the dispute over matters within their secular jurisdiction. However, the courts of secular states, with freedom of religion, are not concerned with, nor entitled to intervene in, matters of individual souls, sanctity, fellowship, baptism, circumcision, confirmation, or ultimate hope of eternal presence in the beatific vision. It is true that such matters can become contentious and inflame the passions, but so long as those passions and their physical expressions do not cause, create, or commit criminal offences or civil delicts, which are entirely within the state's power of legislation, the secular state will not, and ought not to intervene in religious affairs, for which the people assert their freedom, guaranteed in and by the Charter. Nor will it intervene, even when the religious tribunals manifestly exhibit bad or poor judgment, for with freedom of religion, it is not for the secular state to exact of religious bodies the creation of appellate tribunals in imitation of the secular judicature."(35)

In spite of this clear rule, on occasion lower courts have blurred the line between purely religious decrees and religious decrees with property or civil rights implications. Therefore, some have assumed the jurisdiction to review disfellowshipping decisions; however, at the end of the day, the plaintiffs still did not succeed -- in spite of the courts questionable interpretation of their jurisdictions.(36)

Finally, in terms of a possible exception to the general rule of non-interference in ecclesiastical court matters, the very old case of Er Parrie Curne offers an interesting twist.(37) In that case, since the rules of discipline of the Methodist Church were incorporated right in the statute which incorporated it, the tribunals appointed under the statute to try charges against church ministers were found to be constituted as inferior courts and, as a result, to fall under the control and supervision of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal. Given the date and level of this decision, however, it might not be very persuasive if similar circumstances arose today.

3. Civil Suits -- Actions, for Damages in Tort and Contract Law

For reasons outlined in the introduction to this part, civil actions taken against the Watch Tower Society are difficult to succeed in. Nevertheless, plaintiffs have tried to sue the organization in tort law and in contract law for the damages which disfellowshipping and shunning have caused them.

The Zebroskis, in Alberta, sued the Jehovah's Witnesses, among other things, for breach of contract (arguing their spiritual contract with Jehovah had been broken when the church unilaterally disfellowshipped them), and for social ostracism and defamation (injuries which they claimed resulted from their disfellowshipping). The breach of contract claim was struck out by the Alberta Queen's Bench, because it was a purely religious contract and a clear example of the type of circumstance where a secular court would never intervene.(38) The claim for social ostracism was dismissed by the Alberta Court of Appeal because the Zebroskis had not attended their disfellowshipping hearing before the church's judicial committee, and they had not appealed the committee's decision according to church procedures. As a result, the Court of Appeal found they had not properly exhausted the remedies available to them to avoid the penalty of ostracism in the ecclesiastical sphere. Consequently, it ruled that they were not entitled to seek redress in the secular law courts, having not properly exhausted the ecclesiastical avenues of appeal first.(39) Finally, their claim for defamation was dismissed because it was out of time -- that is, the time period in which such a claim must be brought by law had expired by the date that they filed their defamation action.(40)

The only reported case of a [Jehovah's] Witness succeeding in a defamation suit against the Watch Tower Society, was the case of Olin Moyle, a [former Jehovah's] Witness and [the WatchTower Cult's former Lead Attorney], who sued the American corporate body in the 1940s.(41) Since that time, the [Jehovah's] Witnesses have learned to be much more cautious in making potentially damaging remarks about [former] members. For example, they now only communicate the news of a member's disfellowshipping verbally, never in writing, and they no longer announce the grounds for the expulsion, making it more difficult for a potential plaintiff to prove that defamation occurred.(42)

James Penton brought an action for defamation against the Jehovah's Witnesses, in 1981, after he was thrown out of the organization for his dissenting views. He feels that he had a 50% chance of winning the case, but it took such a toll on him financially, and on his wife emotionally, that he dropped the lawsuit, not to mention that the one remaining defendant to the suit would have had no money to pay damages, even if Dr. Penton had won. In retrospect, Dr. Penton now is of the view that courts of law may not be the proper venues in which to seek redress for injuries arising from disfellowshipping and shunning activities, although he notes that the one legal area where people are succeeding today is in cases of alienation of affection, brought in relation to custody matters. He points out that the courts' reluctance to deal with these matters may be a good thing, "because sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease". His concern, in other words, is that religious freedoms might be eroded if the courts started to exercise jurisdiction and make substantive rulings in these cases.(43) In hls view, the support networks established to lend moral and spiritual support to ex-JWs and the body of literature exposing the hypocrisy of the JWs may be more effective means of dealing with the problems of disfellowship and shunning.

In summary, limited legal avenues are available to [former Jehovah's Witnesses]  to pursue actions for injuries resulting from disfellowshipping or shunning activities. A number of barriers exist. For example, secular courts generally will not hear complaints related to ecclesiastical matters, such as church membership, unless a civil right matter (such as a property or tortious issue) is also involved. The Watch Tower Society is a well-practised litigant and can be expected to tenaciously fight all claims brought against it. Also, representatives of the Watch Tower Society are usually quite careful not to put themselves in actionable positions, or at least are well-versed in minimizing their vulnerability to lawsuits.

Finally, lest one be left with the impression that the secular courts are heartless in their firm refusal to interfere with harsh ecclesiastical decrees, the words of Justice Hall in the Hoper decision indicate that this is not the case. He was obviously disturbed by the Court's inability to grant relief to the appellants, who were thrown out of their church and left penniless. He called on the legislators to take action to soften the blows churches can sometimes deal to those who leave them:

While agreeing that this appeal fails, I must however express my abhorrence at the treatment accorded the appellants by their erstwhile co-religionists. The insults and gross indignities inflicted on these men and their families as disclosed in the evidence is foreign to the whole concept of life in Canada, whether lived in community or not. The rigidity of the law as declared ... which deprives a dissident group, whether small or large, of all rights in the property and assets of a religious community should, I think, be softened by appropriate legislation....(44)

B. Self-Help Avenues for Ex-JWs

Education does not need much elaboration as a method of self-help. By reading literature[, online and hardcopy,] which critically analyzes the practices and beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses, [former Jehovah's] Witnesses can help themselves come to terms with their experiences. ... [When appropriate, seek the help of mental health professionals.]

With respect to [online] support networks, a cautionary note should be voiced. Many support groups appear to exist, but an ex-JW approaching such groups should be careful to check them out to make sure that they are not [ultra-liberal left-wing groups, including Wiccans, Pagans, and sexual deviants] preying on the vulnerability of estranged [Jehovah's] Witnesses, and eager to replace [sound Biblical doctrine with atheism, socialism, communism, and overall disregard of morals, ethics, rules, and laws.] Such [online] groups run on a volunteer basis, and [are not] regulated or controlled in any way. So the onus is on the person seeking help to approach with them caution. ...


This paper has attempted to describe the disfellowshipping and shunning practices of JWs and to present possible remedial actions which might be taken by an individual to address the injury he or she is caused by these practices. It concludes that a self-help approach may be more effective at the end of the day, than pursing legal avenues.


(1)"Susan Delacourt", "Outcast Witnesses Unite in Network: Devastated by Shunning Former Members Say," Globe and Mail, 28 July 1987.

(2)Merlin B. Brinkerhoff and Kathryn L. Burke, "Disaffiliation: Some Notes on 'Falling from the Faith'," Sociological Analysis, Vol. 41, No. 1, 1980, p.42.

(3)Richard N. Ostling and Anne Constable, "Ostracized: A Sect Leader Falls," Time, 22 February 1982, p. 40.

(4)James A. Beverley, Crisis of Allegiance, Welch Publishing Company Inc., Burlington (Ontario), 1986, p. 109-110.

(5)Heather and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah 's Witnesses, University of Toronto Press,
Toronto, 1984, p. 188.

(6)Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York Inc., 819 F. 2d. 875 (U.S. App. 1987) [hereinafter Paul v. Watchtower].

(7)Tom Harpur, "Jehovah's Witnesses Split over Transfusions: Prominent Member Expelled for Saying Transfusion Ban Based on Misreading," Toronto Star, 20 January 1982.

(8)Conversation with James Penton, 10 September 1992. See also M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1985, p. 89-90.


(10)Bart Testa, "Bearing Witness to a Mass Exodus," Maclean's, 16 March,1981, p. 47. Also, James Penton (1985), p. 248:

"Although judicial committees are supposed to operate on the basis of certain minimal established procedures, these are frequently ignored by committee members, circuit overseers, and the Society itself. In addition, when the Society decides that someone is troublesome, it will actually conspire to have such a person cast out in flagrant violation of its own rules. When Walter Salter, former Canadian Branch Overseer, was disfellowshipped in 1937, his witnesses were shouted down and denied the right to speak at a congregational trial, even according to the Watchtower's own account. ... Numerous others have experienced even more severe treatment. An Ottawa, Ontario woman, Mrs. Elana Bartlett, was verbally harassed so severely by a judicial committee several years ago, that she was rendered unconscious and had to be taken by ambulance to a local hospital and given oxygen."

11)Conversations with ex-JWs, 10 and 11 September 1992.

(12)Penton (1985), p. 89 and Paul v. Watchtower.

(13)Paul v. Watchtower. See also Botting (1984), p. 163.

(14)Conversation with James Penton, 10 September 1992. See also, generally, Penton (1985).

(15)Penton (1985), p. 300.

(16)Delacourt (1987)

(17)In Brinkerhoff (1980), p. 49.

(18)Delacourt (1987)

(19) Conversations with ex-JWs, 10 and 11 September 1992.

(20) Beverley (1986), p. 13.

(21) Ross W.A. Campbell, Submission to the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada, 29 December 1991.

(22) Denise J. Doyle, "Religious Freedom in Canada," Journal of Church and State, Vol. 26, Autumn 1984 D. 413 at 420.

(23)For a complete copy of the organization's letters patent, see Appendix B: "Letters Patent for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada."

(24)Conversation with James Penton, 10 September 1992. Dr. Penton was not sure whether the same tactics are employed in Canada.

(25)For further financial details of the Society, see Appendix C: "Revenue Canada, Registered Charities Return and Public Information for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada."

(26)Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, Local 580 v. Dolphin Delivery lad. (1986), 25 C.R.R. 321 (S.C.C.) [hereinafter Dolphin Delivery].

(27)Dolphin Delivery, at 336.

(28)McKinney v. University of Guelph (1990), 76 D.L.R. (4th) 545 at 637 (S.C.C.).

(29)(1991), 2 O.R. (3d) 304 at 313 (O.C.G.D.).

(30)Reed v. The Queen (1989), 41 C.R.R. 371 at 376 (F.C.T.D.), affirmed (1990), 2 C.R.R. (2d) 192 (F.C.A.), leave to appeal to S.C.C. refused (13 December 1990) Doc. 22013 (S.C.C.).

(31) Dolphin Delivery at 343.

(32)Salituro v. The Queen (1991), 8 C.R.R. (2d) 173 at 189 (s.c.c.).

(33)(1988), 32 C.R.R. 1 at 15 (Que.C.A.).

(34)See, for example, Ukranian Greek Orthodox Church v. Trustees of Ukranian Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mary the Protectress (1940), [1940] 3 D.L.R. 670 at 692 (S.C.C.): the Court would not grant an injunction to stop an excommunicated priest from officiating at his church because the civil courts of Canada will not allow their processes to be used to enforce "purely ecclesiastical" decrees or orders.

(35)Reed v. the Queen, at 374-88.

(36)See Christensen v. Bodner [No. 1] (1975), 65 D.L.R. (3d) 549 (Man.Q.B.) and Christensen v. Bodner [No. 2] (1977), 2 A.C.W.S. 1077 (Man.Q.B.); see also Zebroski v. Jehovah's Witnesses (1988), 87 A.R. 229 at 235 (Alta.C.A.), leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

(37)(1886), 26 N.B.R. 403 at 411-12 (N.B.C.A.).

(38)Zebroski v. Jehovah's Witnesses (1986),71 A.L.R.2S9 at 268 (Alta.Q.B.).

(39)Zebroski (Alta.C.A.) at 237.

(40)Zebroski (Alta.C.A.) at 228.

(41)The case is described in Penton (1988) at p. 80-83.

(42)Conversation with James Penton, 10 September 1992.


(44) Hofer v. Hofer [1970] S.C.R. 958 at 975.

(45)Conversations with ex-JWs, 10 and 11 September 1992.




Beverly, James A. Crisis of Allegiance: A Study of Dissent Among Jehovah's Witnesses. Welch Publishing Company Inc., Burlington (Ontario), 1986, 108 pages plus appendix. Beverly documents one of the most well-known expulsions in the history of Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada: the excommunication of Dr. James Penton, a devoted church elder and fourth generation member. Also, he generally explores and criticizes the beliefs of this religion.

Botting, Heather and Gary. The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1984, 213 pages including glossary, bibliography, and illustrations. The Bottings, who are former Jehovah's Witnesses, outline and critically analyze the historical development of the religion, its beliefs, indoctrination processes and power structure.

Penton, M. James. Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1985, 400 pages including bibliography and illustrations. Penton provides a comprehensive and critical historical analysis of doctrinal and organizational developments in the Jehovah's Witnesses movement.

Articles (listed in chronological order)

"Jehovah's Witnesses Eyeing Reform Group." The Edmonton Journal, 26 December 1980.

"A Heresy Trial in Lethbridge: Witness Hatred of Him, Says the Accused, is 'Pathological'." Alberta Report, 27 February 1981, p. 24.

Testa, Bart. "Bearing Witness to a Mass Exodus." Maclean's, 16 March 1981, p. 47.

"Witnesses Pro and Con: The Sect Talks 'Loyalty' as its Dissidents Confer." Alberta Report, 20 July 1981, p. 31.

Harpur, Tom. "Jehovah's Witnesses Split over Transfusions: Prominent Member Expelled for Saying Transfusion Ban Based on Misreading." Toronto Star, 20 January 1982.

Sheppard, John. "Lethbridge's Leader of Dissent: Professor Penton Spearheads a Jehovah's Witness Revolt.' Alberta Report, 8 February 1982.

Ostling, Richard N. and Anne Constable. "Ostracised: A Sect Leader Falls." Time, 22 February 1982, p. 40.

Bergman, Brian. "Jehovah's Dissidents: Brooklyn JWs Face Alberta-Led Protesters." Alberta Report, 8 October 1984, p. 46.

Henker, Barbara. "Witness for the Persecution: An Anti-Cult Centre opens Fire on 'Pseudo'Christians." Alberta Report, 6 May 1985, p. 30.

Penton, M. James. "Heather and Gary Botting, The Orwellian World of Jehovah's Witnesses" and Raymond Franz, "Crisis of Conscience" [book reviews]. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 24 No. 1, February 1987, p. 138.

Weagerbe, Steve. "A 'Heretic' Defended: Crisis of Allegiance by James A. Beverly." Western Report, 16 February 1987, p. 44.

Delacourt, Susan. "Outcast Witnesses Unite in Network: Devastated by Shunning Former Members Say." Globe and Mail, 25 July 1987.

Cayouette, Pierre. "La loi des Temoins de Jehovah: divine ou ... inhumaine? -- Des temoinages troublants." Le. Devoir, 8 March 1988.

Burns, David. "A Watchtower Win: 'Disfellowshipped' Witnesses Lose Again in a 12-Year base." Alberta Report, 25 July 1988, p. 32.

Howes, Carol. "Church Delivers a Spiritual Sentence: Ejected Witnesses Ask for 'Fair' Hearing." Calgary Herald, 10 March 1991.

Clemente, Peter. "Seeking Political Salvation: A Shunned Jehovah's Witness Complains to MPs." British Columbia Report, 11 May 1992, p. 32.

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Short BIBLE TOPIC Readings Selected For Those With Jehovah's Witnesses Backgrounds

Wifely Subjection: Mental Health Issues in Jehovah's Witness Women

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Problem of Mental Illness

The Theocratic War Doctrine: Why Jehovah's Witnesses Lie In Court

Blood Transfusions: A History and Evaluation of the Religious, Biblical, and Medical Objections (Jehovah's Witnesses perspective)

Blood, Medicine, and the Jehovah's Witnesses: The Hidden History of the Watchtower's Position on the Blood Issue

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