W5 exclusive: Hidden camera investigation exposes faith-healing sex offender
Litsa Sourtzis, W5 Producer
Published Friday, November 28, 2014 3:00PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 29, 2014 11:58PM EST
This story contains sexual content and mature subject matter. Discretion is advised.
In a tiny village called St. Mathieu D’Harricana in northwestern Quebec, there’s an isolated home with a large statue of the Virgin Mary in the front yard; a symbol of true religious belief.
Living inside is an intense man with penetrating eyes and a deep conviction in his own powers.
“I am the best, but I am painful. My hands are like that. It’s a power from God. I'm able to heal backs, I'm able to heal cancer, hearts, lungs, everything.”
These are the kind of astounding claims made by 58 year-old faith healer Claude Provencher.
Trina Breault was suffering with debilitating chronic pain when she was first referred to Provencher.
By the time she walked into his treatment room, she had tried back surgery, been on thirty-three different medications, and had consulted doctors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors, but without any relief.
“I was 41 at the time and I had three children and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on pain medication. I couldn’t,” recalled Breault.
Once an active, independent mom, she needed a wheelchair to go shopping and required the help of her eldest daughter with bathing. Eventually Trina lost her job and then lost all hope of ever getting better. So when her sister-in-law told her about a special man with a direct channel to God, Trina was ready to try anything.
“Of course I was skeptical but honestly, he was my last hope. I needed to believe,” she told W5.
It took Trina Breault months before she could secure an appointment with the busy faith healer. Operating out of a private residence in New Liskeard, Ont., he was treating around 80 patients a week and was charging $40 per half-hour session.
“You couldn’t just call him up. He didn’t have an office. He didn’t advertise. You had to be brought to him by an existing patient,” said Breault.
Her sister-in-law, one of Provencher’s most devout followers, prepared her in advance of the bizarre healing sessions. She warned Trina to be careful around the healer, not to anger him, or else she would be cut off from his powers.
She described his fingers as “Jesus’ scalpels” or as knives cutting through the body’s nerves. But in order to activate these nerves, she would need to remove all her clothes and lie completely exposed in front of the healer.
According to court transcripts obtained by W5, Provencher treated his mostly female clients on a massage table. There was a large crucifix hanging on the wall and Provencher would stare at it during the sessions.
“He would take his hands and he would place them on my forehead, at my throat, on my breast bone and then just below my sternum,” said Breault. Provencher told her this is how he would receive messages from God about what was wrong with her. He would then proceed to rub his hands all over her body.
“At one point the sessions were extremely painful and I screamed out ‘Oh, my God.’ And he got very angry. He told me if you use the Lord’s name in vain again you’ll have to leave. So I felt like I had to tread very lightly.”
Breault told W5 that Provencher’s supporters reassured her that the pain, the nudity, it was all part of the treatment, and so was the fondling.
During her sessions, Trina says Provencher started placing his hands on her breast.
“I was shocked and he could tell that I was shocked. He shook his hand on my breast and said, ‘This means nothing to me. I see thousands of women every year; many of them want to have sex with me. Why do you think I would want to have sex with you?’”
Breault said Provencher would touch her in increasingly invasive and disturbing ways. On her sixth visit, she found the strength to confront him after she says he made a lewd comment about her body: “I like the way your ass looks when you move like that.”
When she asked him to stop, Breault says Provencher became very angry and placed his hands around her neck berating her for 45 minutes, while she lay naked and terrified on the massage table. Eventually Provencher let go of Breault’s neck and simply let her leave.
A few days later, Breault walked into the Temiskaming detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police to record her story.
In a police video obtained by W5, Breault told OPP Const. Erin Thomas, “He goes between your legs sometimes to do part of the treatment. It’s the nerves in your legs. And at one point he put his hand over my vaginal area and was rubbing his fingers down the inside of my thigh. And it was excruciating and it hurt. And I was yelling and then he took his hand off and smelled it.”
At first Breault was reluctant to press charges. Then she learned that Provencher was already on the sex offender registry. In 2008, while practicing in Sudbury, Ont., he was charged and then convicted of sexually assaulting two of his female clients.
She was also troubled by what she’d seen while awaiting her sessions: 13- and 15-year-old girls waiting to be treated by the faith healer. That’s why Breault felt obligated to go public with her allegations of sexual assault.
“I knew that there would be questions, ‘why did you go back six times.’ you know. I knew that I would be the one blamed. But my husband said to me you know if this had happened to our daughters would that be okay?”
Court transcripts obtained by W5 include testimony that some of Provencher’s followers had permitted their underage daughters to be treated naked – so staunch was their belief in his so- called divine powers.
On April 8, 2011, Temiskaming OPP charged Provencher with six counts of sexual assault involving Breault.
Provencher convicted of sexual assault
On Jan. 21, 2013, he was convicted of sexually assaulting Breault and was sentenced to one year in prison. After his release, he was placed on probation with strict conditions, including not conducting any healing sessions.
But Trina Breault remained convinced not even a conviction and a court order would stop Provencher. W5 decided to investigate, using hidden cameras. Two women posed as patients – one a W5 producer and the other a private investigator with 20 years experience investigating questionable or abusive health care practitioners.
Hidden camera investigation
Without any hesitation, Provencher agreed to treat them and thereby risked breaching his probation and possibly going back to jail.
During the private investigator’s treatment, without warning, Provencher touched her buttocks. While treating the W5 producer, the faith healer attempted to touch her breasts five times. While she continued to push his hands away, Provencher dismissed her concerns insisting “I’ve seen breasts for 30 years.”
Clearly frustrated with the producer, he stopped the treatments and proclaimed, “She won’t let me work as I wish so she won’t be healed”
Not only did Provencher attempt to inappropriately touch the two women, he also claimed to have diagnosed a medical condition for the W5 producer, a woman in good health. Provencher claimed God told him she has pituitary gland problems and she will be depressed in a few years.
This isn’t the first time Provencher has diagnosed medical conditions. In 2005, Quebec’s College of Physicians and Surgeons charged Provencher with the “illegal practice of medicine”. He was fined $1,200.
Groups attempt to stop Provencher
Dr. Charles Bernard, head of the College, told W5 they had been receiving complaints about the faith healer from pharmacists and doctors since 1996. That’s when they first learned he had been advising clients to stop taking their prescribed medications.
“The College wrote a warning to Provencher and told him to stop all those activities. Because he pretends to be a healer or a doctor in the name of God,” said Bernard in an interview with W5.
But it was the case of Micheline Theberge that prompted the College to launch a full investigation into Provencher’s practices. Fifty-one-year-old Micheline had a large cancerous tumour in her abdomen and believed Provencher could heal her though his God-given gifts and bizarre medical advice.
The faith healer convinced her to stop seeing a physician and, along with his weekly healing sessions, prescribed drinking olive oil and avoiding dairy products as a cure.
Unfortunately, while Theberge clung to her faith in Provencher, her tumour continued to grow and she died in 2002. Her daughter, Cathy Lachance told W5, “During the funeral at my home I met Claude. And I told him that what he’s doing is dangerous. People believe him.”
Following W5’s undercover visit to Provencher, we spoke to the Quebec College of Physicians and Surgeons. The College said it will undertake a new investigation.
“He will be difficult to stop. He will need more sanction,” said Bernard.
But nothing seems to stop the self-professed faith healer – not convictions or sanctions and even the church seems powerless.
In 1995, the Catholic Diocese of Amos shunned Provencher because he was claiming to be an intermediary of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Diocese spoke to the media about their concerns in an effort to warn their congregations to stay away from the charismatic faith healer.
But he remains unrepentant.
W5’s Victor Malarek met with Provencher at his home in St. Mathieu D’Harricana, where he claimed to have healing powers derived from God.
“I'm able to heal backs, I'm able to heal cancer, hearts, lungs, everything.” he told W5, while describing his hands as “surgical “knives.”
Provencher also told W5 that Trina Breault and other complainants misunderstood his intentions that when he touched his patients it wasn’t sexual.
Informed that W5’s hidden cameras had recorded him breaching the conditions of his probation by continuing to treat patients, Provencher was at first upset but still remained shamelessly unrepentant.
“Now I'm so nervous because you can put me in trouble. I don't want to go back in jail because I'm a healer and I'm gifted. I tried to do my job. And if you're in pain I will try to take your pain away, my way. But I'm not a pervert. I do my job and I'm good.”
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