(Left to right) Sean Kotelmach, Coy Nolin and Caitlin Erickson accuse teachers and school officials – some of whom are still working in different religious establishments – of having coerced them into exorcisms, corporal punishment and solitary confinement, in particular.
Eighteen former students of the private Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon accuse school and Mile Two Church officials of criminal abuse that occurred between 1995 and 2010.
They are also calling on the Government of Saskatchewan to halt funding for the school, which has been provincially funded for 10 years, until the investigation is complete.
“It was a cult.
— Caitlin Erickson, the first plaintiff
Legacy Christian Academy was called Christian Center Academy when it opened in 1984. until 2013.
Refusing repeated interview requests from CBC/Radio-Canada, the Mile Two Church refuted all of the plaintiffs' allegations in a written statement, saying the occurrences of abuse should be reported to the police.
After a 12-month investigation, the Saskatoon Police Service transferred the case to the Crown prosecutor in April. A decision on the status of the complaint is expected by April 2023.
Victims allege that the majority of events took place after the Supreme Court of Canada's decision, taken in 2004, ruling that it is illegal to impose corporal punishment on children.
Former students claim that the school's principal sent a letter to parents in 2003, shortly before the Supreme Court's decision, asking for permission to continue with the school's disciplinary methods.
“They were all crying, but not me, I was so angry,” says Caitlin Erickson of a group corporal punishment session suffered by her girls' volleyball team at the hands of school staff in 2003. /p>
“It's all about fear. The fear of being hit and the fear of going to hell.
— Caitlin Erickson, the first complainant
Caitlin Erickson recounts the collective punishment suffered on a Monday morning in the fall of 2003. The day before, the women's volleyball team senior had whispered during mass.
When they arrived at school the next day, the girls were insulted by their coach and the school principal, before being subjected to individual spanking sessions in a separate room.
It was so cruel; two grown men hitting teenage girls like that, with big paddles, like canoe oars, taking turns, says Caitlin Erickson.
The school says it stopped the practice about 20 years ago.
“It was one of the worst days of my life . Just thinking about it, I weaken,” says Coy Nolin, victim of conversion therapy in the form of exorcism, in 2004.
“It was abuse. It was a hate crime.
— Former student Coy Nolin
Former student Coy Nolin reports that he was abused in front of his mother, in their own home, in 2004, three days after the director called the boy an abomination during a three-hour interrogation. Someone had revealed that Coy Nolin was gay.
According to the story of the mother and son, the four visitors placed their hands on the teenager, muttering prayers for almost an hour, in order to cure her of her homosexuality.
We have never practiced exorcism in our establishments and we have never been informed of such a practice, says the school administration in its written refutation of the allegations.
The institution adds that there have been staff and policy changes in recent years and that LGBTQ+ students are all welcome.
At the end of the session, the director allegedly beat Coy Nolin with wooden paddles, leaving bruises on his body and making it difficult for him to move around in the days that followed.
“I couldn't live with this rage anymore,” says Sean Kotelmach, who decided to add his voice to that of the other plaintiffs after talking with Caitlin Erickson.
“I was so scared.
— Sean Kotelmach, Alumnus
At 13, Sean Kotelmach was forced for three weeks to arrive 15 minutes before his classmates to work alone in a windowless room all day, only allowed to leave 15 minutes after the other students had left.
Undiagnosed dyslexic Sean Kotelmach often had difficulty complying with the orders and directives of the teachers, who imposed this punishment on him with the air of solitary confinement.
Mr. Kotelmach regrets not having denounced the school when he attended it, from 1996 to 2008, while he and his friends sometimes wore up to nine layers of underwear to cushion the recurring paddle blows .
Former students also refer to the disciplinary manual The Child Training Seminar, written by the father of the current director, sold to sides of bibles and wooden pallets in the gift shop.
CBC obtained a copy of the 85-page document containing eight lessons. The book claims that unbelieving teachers and psychologists who oppose corporal punishment are influenced by the devil, and should be ignored.
Sometimes spanking leaves scars on the child. A listening liberal might claim that we encourage each other to beat up children, the manual reads.
“Do have the child bend over and apply the paddle firmly. Make sure the child cannot jump or move. Don't let tears and prayers lessen the severity of the punishment. »
— Passage included in the manual The Child Training Seminar
Fathers at the head of the household must apply this discipline without emotion and with consistency, the manual states.
There is no indication that the manual is still circulating or that its methods are used by staff.
Ten years after its opening, Legacy Christian Academy has received its provincial accreditation allowing its students to continue their studies in college and university.
The school claims that she is guided by the doctrines of the Mile Two Church, especially regarding the infallibility of the Bible.
The Mile Two Church was formerly known as the Saskatoon Christian Centre.
The two institutions share a building in the Lawson Heights neighborhood in the City of Bridges.
A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association (CMAJ) states that children who have experienced corporal punishment are more likely to develop mental health problems.
Without exception, concludes the report, they are more prone to violence, showing high levels of aggression towards parents, siblings, co-workers and romantic partners.
Anything that these former students say, it's abuse; it’s degrading, says report co-author Joan Durant.
Imposing fear, isolating children… This is unacceptable.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan says independent schools are evaluated three times a year, and the last inspection at Legacy Christian Academy was June 8.
The missive adds that the department does not has not received a complaint about the school since the Qualified Independent School Grants began in 2012.
The Department adds that a detailed response regarding allegations of Ms. Erickson is imminent.
A Saskatoon Police Department spokesperson says it is unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.
There is no deadline for filing such complaints when they concern minors.
With information from Jason Warick