A private Saskatoon Christian school at the centre of dozens of abuse allegations must be closed immediately, former students told the province’s education minister during a meeting Wednesday.
“There are four decades of victims. We don’t want a fifth,” former Christian Centre Academy student Caitlin Erickson said following the 90-minute meeting with Education Minister Dustin Duncan.
“Yes, I feel there’s been enough victims. How many is a big enough number to take action?” said another former student, Coy Nolin.
Nolin, Erickson, former student Stephanie Hutchinson and their lawyer, Grant Scharfstein, had a private meeting with Duncan and his staff Wednesday afternoon in downtown Saskatoon.
They’ve been pressing for Duncan and Premier Scott Moe to hear their concerns. Following a CBC News investigation this summer, more than 30 former students and church members have come forward alleging they were subjected to widespread deprivations and violence that included sexual, physical and psychological abuse, solitary confinement and homophobic exorcisms.
They filed a $25-million lawsuit against nearly two dozen officials from the school and adjacent Saskatoon Christian Centre church. The names of the institutions have since been changed to Legacy Christian Academy and Mile Two Church.
The allegations led to an investigation by the Saskatchewan children’s advocate, and the provincial government has appointed an independent administrator to run the school this fall.
Students say that’s not good enough. They wanted the government to shut down the school, or at least suspend the roughly $700,000 in annual taxpayer funds that go to it.
Scharfstein said they reiterated those calls to Duncan again Wednesday.
“I think he heard us. We said we need action. Legacy needs to be shut down,” Scharfstein said. “But I have no idea if anything will happen.”
Scharfstein, Nolin and Erickson also told Duncan that taxpayers’ funds should be used to strengthen the public system and not go to private religious schools. They said oversight of these private schools is poor, and something must change immediately.
Duncan could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. Instead, the Ministry of Education provided a statement.
“While the Ministry of Education has not been named in the lawsuit, it will continue to monitor this situation as it moves through the legal process,” the statement said.
“The Government of Saskatchewan has already taken significant steps to ensure the safety of all children in all Saskatchewan schools, including putting in place administrators into the three schools that had someone on staff named in the lawsuit, enhancing the regulations and oversight of the schools, and fully co-operating with the Advocate for Children and Youth in its investigation.”
Current Legacy and Mile Two officials have declined repeated interview requests. They said in written statements that they take the allegations seriously and will co-operate with any investigation.
Students say officials are not sincere. They pointed to a recent sermon by current Mile Two Pastor Brien Johnson that the church posted on YouTube. In the sermon, Johnson said he thinks some of the allegations are “exaggerated,” but did not provide any evidence or details.