© Stephanie Findlay/Tornto Star
Carla Brown, director of the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse (ESAMA), talks with Tyler Newton on Friday at the annual conference of the International Cultic Studies Association, held in Montreal. The conference lasts three days.
Montreal - Carla Brown is planning on staging an intervention, hoping to rescue people from what she believes is a cult.
She has been told there is a self-described prophet living near Okotoks, Alta., a quiet town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, who claims to speak with Adam and Eve.
Brown, the director of the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse (ESAMA), said the prophet controls the lives of some 20 people.
"One ex-member leaked audio tapes of her to me," said Brown. "It was this sing-song prayer, everything in rhyme. It gave me goosebumps."
Brown is part of a tight-knit group of cult experts in Edmonton who field calls from distressed Albertans - and, increasingly, Canadians from other provinces - who have lost a family member or friend to a group like that of the Okotoks prophet.
She is one of more than 30 experts who have come to Montreal to speak at the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) annual conference. Held in the Chinatown Holiday Inn, the event is known for its diverse group of participants, one of the few in the field where academics, mental health practitioners and former cult members sit side by side to take in the presentations.
"This conference is one of the biggest in years," said organizer Michael Kropveld.
Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta studying anti-government cults in the province, serves as a kind of academic adviser to Brown, who, in return, tips him off to new groups.
Matt Trodden, a 23-year-old graduate student also at the University of Alberta researching how music is used as a control mechanism in cults, is reluctant to name the active ones. "The advice always given is 'Don't name the group'," he said. "Then you won't get sued."
When local resources fail her, Brown calls her international friends, including Americans Steve Hassen, a counsellor and author of Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs
, and David Clark, a "thought reform consultant."
But families often cannot afford to pay for Hassen's services, she said. That's where she comes in.
During her weekly meetings in Edmonton, Brown sees approximately eight people, the majority parents, who are concerned about their family members being involved with a cult.
Some parents speak with Tyler Newton, a Virginia native who runs a website about the World Mission Society Church of God, an organization based in Korea.
What he hears from the parents is "heart wrenching," he said, adding he receives an email a week from someone concerned about the church.
Brown has direct experience with cults.
As a teenager, she said she knew Michael O'Byrne, son of Justice Michael O'Byrne of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, and believed to be a high-ranking official of the Osho Commune International, a group described by its since-deceased leader as: "Not a cult. Christianity is a cult, Mohammedism is a cult, Hinduism is a cult. You have to understand my idea about a cult. When the master is alive it is a religion."
Then Brown spent 15 years in a conservative Christian cult known as the Plymouth Brethren, located outside Fort McMurray, Alta. She had seven children.
After leaving the cult eight years ago, she eventually became a counsellor herself, assuming the director position at ESAMA last year.
Brown hopes to start a show in the vein of Intervention
, the television series that sees people confront a loved one struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse. Instead of an addiction, however, the separation will be caused by a cult.
She has plenty of material - "My phone is ringing constantly."