Sect held strange allure for Quebec middle class

WHILE Quebec has been fertile ground for all sorts of spiritual movements in recent years - mostly ageing hippies trying to be organic farmers - the Order of the Solar Temple had a more ominous overtone.

Under the leadership of Luc Jouret, the Solar Temple developed a penchant for secrecy and fire-arms. The mystery is how it managed to attract middle-class adherents and establish itself in luxurious surroundings with properties in Quebec, Switzerland, France, Martinique and Australia.

Quebeckers were stunned to learn that the victims in Switzerland included the prominent mayor of a Montreal suburb and his wife, a Quebec journalist and a senior official from the Quebec Ministry of Finance. At least eight and possibly as many as 20 of the people who died in Switzerland came from Quebec.

In addition, the bodies of a man and a woman - and last night two further bodies burnt beyond recognition - were found in the ruins of the Solar Temple headquarters in Morin Heights, a ski resort north of Montreal. Authorities have still not identified the first pair but, based on autopsies, they do not believe the man was either Mr Jouret, who has not been seen in Canada for more than a year, or Joseph di Mambro, the other registered owner of the semi-detached house.

There had been serious concerns last year that the group had infiltrated the management of Hydro-Quebec, the province's huge electrical utility after a police raid found a project manager in possession of prohibited pistols equipped with silencers.

The investigation found the Solar Temple group were using Hydro-Quebec offices to hold meetings and Mr Jouret had even been paid to give management training and motivation seminars.

After the gun raids in March 1993, which produced weapons convictions against Mr Jouret and two of his followers, the group has been investigated in connection with death threats against four members of the Quebec provincial parliament, a series of bombings against Hydro- Quebec installations and a conspiracy to bomb Indian reserves. But beside the weapons, apparently for protection at Armageddon, no other links have been confirmed.

At the centre of the group, which the Quebec Police estimates has up to 100 members, is Luc Jouret, the charismatic 46-year-old with a medical degree from the Free University in Brussels. Born in the Belgian Congo, he grew up near Liege and was on police files as 'an active member' of a group called the Walloon Communist Youth between 1965 and 1975. The group apparently had nothing to do with the Communist movement, but was 'a cult,' according to Belgian Communist Party members. When the Canadian authorities sought information on Mr Jouret in 1985, the Belgian Justice Ministry informed them that no files had been opened on him since 1975. A year before, he had graduated as a doctor. After three years as a general practitioner he opted for homeopathic medicine while becoming fascinated with the spiritual healers from the Philippines. He made trips to Manila to study their methods, according to Stefano Macchia, who was a member of a Belgian sect with Mr Jouret in the 1970s.

'My memory of him is of someone who was a little melancholic, a bit sad,' Mr Macchia recalled. 'He was very friendly but he definitely had a certain edge over others in the group.'

Another acquaintance, said Mr Jouret was operating under the influence of an Indian guru, Krishna Macharia, and organised a series of conferences on Karma Yoga on his behalf. Many of Mr Jouret's homeopathic clients came from left-wing and extremist circles in Brussels.

Before he left Belgium to live in the village of Leglise in Luxembourg in 1981, Mr Jouret is reported to have spent time studying in China. While in Leglise, he and his partner had a child who died four days after birth and is buried in the local cemetery.

The couple, later married in India, moved to Annemasse, a French village close to the Swiss border, where Mr Jouret lived and practised homeopathic medicine until emigrating to Canada in 1986. While in Annemasse, he tried to take over a new-age sect, called the Renewed Order of the Temple. A member of that group recalled him yesterday as a 'good talker with a charismatic air'. But she added: 'His sole aim was to get money and girls. He managed to convince 10 of our group to go to Canada with him and he ruined them.'

The Montreal Crown attorney who prosecuted Mr Jouret on the weapons offences, Jean-Claude Boyer, said of the group: 'They saw themselves as superior human beings whose survival was needed to relaunch the human face after a cataclysm they saw coming because of the deterioration of world affairs.'

But he also described Mr Jouret as a very rational, serene, scientific person. 'He had the style of a gentleman. He (and his fellow defendants in the gun cases) looked like businessmen. There was nothing crazy about them.'

Surviving members of the sect recall that during full moons, Mr Jouret dressed in hooded robes to lecture followers. But they also say that he never discussed plans for mass sucide at that time.

One disgruntled former follower said Mr Jouret had 'brainwashed' between 50 and 100 wealthy people , mostly from Switzerland, France and Martinique to follow him to Quebec in the mid-1980s. One of them, Bruno Klaus, sold his farm in Switzerland and gave Mr Jouret the Cdollars 300,000 ( pounds 150,000) proceeds .

Mr Klaus's wife, Rose-Marie later sued the group and received a dollars 150,000 out-of- court settlement. 'Jouret thinks he's Christ,' she said at the time of the suit. 'He told people a great cataclysm was going to take place and only the selected will survive.' The medallions found around the necks of the Quebec victims, similar to those found on the victims in Switzerland, bear out this theme of the Apocalypse with symbols of the four horsmen. Some former members of the sect have revealed there were divisions within the group and that Mr Jouret was rejected by many because he was considered too radical - a possible explanation for his departure last year. One group which own a farm in the Eastern Townships between Montreal and the US border said they quit the group because they just wanted to continue their organic farming in peace.

In Switzerland, the members of the Order met, worshipped and died in a garish shrine. The tacky picture of a Christ-like figure, holding a green chalice covered with a light veil, looked out over the room in Cheiry where police discovered, laid out in the shape of the sun, 19 of the 23 corpses on Wednesday.

According to another former member, there were two cult meetings in the secret cellar, at five o'clock in the morning and at eight o'clock in the evening. The members had to confess how they had sinned against nature by putting plastic bags over their heads - a symbol of estrangement from nature.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Life & Style
The exterior of a central London Angus Steakhouse
food + drink
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit