Dozens of Canadians included in lawsuit over alleged abuse by NXIVM sex-cult leadership
U.S. suit includes claims against founders of cult and heiresses of Seagram's liquor empire
A Vancouver woman who went public with allegations of sex slavery inside a cult-like self-empowerment group is among more than three dozen Canadians who are part of a lawsuit against the organization's inner circle.
Sarah Edmondson is suing the leaders of NXIVM — along with two heiresses of the Seagram's liquor fortune — for emotional and financial harm the actress claims to have suffered as a result of being intimidated and harassed as well as being branded with the initials of group leader Keith Raniere.
Edmondson and her husband are among a handful of named plaintiffs in a lawsuit together with 80 anonymous claimants — including 28 Canadian women and 13 Canadian men.
The lawsuit, filed at the end of January in the Eastern District of New York, claims Rainiere and others created and led a "Ponzi scheme and coercive community" designed to financially and emotionally abuse followers.
The suit claims millionaire sisters Clare and Sara Bronfman served in leadership positions in NXIVM, investing their vast wealth "to fund the operations and obstruct the ability of others to uncover the misconduct."
Raniere convicted of sex trafficking
The nearly 200-page court document provides new details about the extent to which Canadians were allegedly involved in NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) and its offshoots — claiming the group filed reports with Vancouver police to silence opponents.
Raniere was convicted of sex trafficking in New York last summer. The 58-year-old, known as Vanguard to his followers, is awaiting sentencing.
TV actress Allison Mack, best known for her role in the series Smallville, is also named in the suit. She pleaded guilty to racketeering in relation to NXIVM last year and is also awaiting sentencing.
Clare Bronfman admitted to harbouring someone living illegally in the U.S. and committing credit card charges on behalf of Raniere as part of a plea deal. She has yet to be sentenced.
Sara Bronfman has never faced any criminal charges.
At its height, NXIVM had thousands of members in New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Edmondson, who belonged to the organization for 12 years, was a co-founder of the Vancouver chapter.
But she was also the first to go public about her recruitment and initiation into a secretive inner circle of female members described by prosecutors as "slaves" to Raniere.
'Collateral' included nude photos
As part of their initiation, the members of the group — known as DOS — gave secrets that could be used as damaging collateral should they fail to comply. Some were also branded in the pubic region with a symbol that appeared to be Raniere's initials.
In the lawsuit, Edmondson claims the defendants provided an edited video of her being branded that was aired in Mexico during the criminal trial, triggering panic attacks, psychological breakdowns and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another Canadian actress — known as Jane Doe 8 — claims she was recruited into DOS by the Battlestar Galactica actress Nicki Clyne, who is also orginally from B.C.
According to the lawsuit, Clyne, who was married to Mack, now lives in Brooklyn.
Jane Doe 8 claims she was told to provide nude photographs and ordered to "provide additional collateral in the form of letters describing a false sexual attack by an actor."
Two other Canadian women — Jane Does 9 and 10 — also claim they were recruited into DOS.
Both claim they were told to provide collateral and each ultimately left the NXIVM community, remaining silent for fear of being sued or having their embarrassing secrets released.
'Human fright experiments'
The lawsuit also describes "human fright experiments" allegedly conducted on NXIVM followers.
One Canadian woman — Jane Doe 19 — claims she was asked to participate in a study in which she was connected to electrodes and shown "a video depicting the actual dismemberment of five women and movie scenes showing a gang rape and a racially motivated murder."
"Following the study, she was unable to sleep for 12 days," the lawsuit reads.
After Jane Doe 19 left NXIVM, she claims the group filed a report with the Vancouver police falsely accusing her of illegally accessing files.
She claims the VPD closed the investigation after learning the affected clients had left NXIVM.
According to the lawsuit, another Canadian woman — Jane Doe 28 — was selected to lead One Asian, a group for women of "East Asian heritage" tailored to produce "perfect humans" secretly considered by Raniere as "potentially suitable sexual partners."
Jane Doe 28 claims she was frequently summoned to NXIVM headquarters in Albany, N.Y., to wait for Raniere, who "would greet her with kisses on the lips and would try to hold her hand during business meetings."
A 'Society of Protectors'
The U.S. lawsuit does not detail the involvement of the Canadian male plaintiffs, beyond saying that they were allegedly emotionally and financially harmed by NXIVM.
But the court documents provide a general overview of a program called the Society of Protectors, founded by Raniere, that promoted men and masculinity.
Members called Raniere "Big Dog" and the men's group was allegedly framed as "NXIVM's equivalent to joining the military" complete with "doing penances, disciplines and readiness drills that would build character."
None of the defendants have filed responses to the lawsuit.
Lawyers for Sara and Clare Bronfman did not respond to emailed questions.