Sask. NDP wants education minister to address abuse allegations at Christian school
Former student plans to update new developments on abuse claims on Tuesday
The Saskatchewan NDP continues to call on the provincial government to immediately freeze funding to a Saskatoon Christian school and investigate the allegations of abuse and degradation.
On Monday, the official opposition critic for human rights said Minister of Education Dustin Duncan should not wait for a criminal investigation to be completed before acting.
"When it comes to the safety of our children, youth, students, our leaders should take immediate and decisive action the minute that safety is called into question," Meara Conway said.
"These allegations should have triggered an immediate investigation on the part of the minister of education. The second this hit Minister Duncan's desk, he should have acted."
The Saskatchewan NDP's calls come following last week's CBC News investigation into practices at the Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy, and the Saskatoon Christian Centre, now called Mile Two Church.
More than 30 students have come forward with stories of violent discipline, traumatic rituals and solitary confinement. Several of them have filed criminal abuse complaints with the Saskatoon police.
Former student Caitlin Erickson and her legal counsel plan to provide "a legal update on new developments in the alleged abuse claims" against the academy and the church on Tuesday afternoon, according to a press release.
- CBC InvestigatesExorcisms, violent discipline and other abuse alleged by former students of private Sask. Christian school
Earlier this month, the minister refused an interview request. An email statement from his office announced that no decisions about further investigations or funding will be made until police investigations are concluded.
The minister's silence on the topic is troubling, Conway says, since it is unclear how long an investigation might take and whether it would cover all allegations brought forward by students,
"For this minister's office to suggest that the bar for our kids' safety and education is only whether a criminal act has occurred is shocking," Conway said.
"If an institution in Saskatchewan is in receipt of one single dollar from this province, the minister of education should be confident that the basic human rights of attending students are being upheld."
Legacy Christian Centre received more than $700K
While parents pay tuition and participate in fundraising when sending their children to the private school, it has also been receiving Saskatchewan government funding for the past decade.
According to the 2020-21 Saskatchewan government public accounts, Legacy Christian Centre received public funding of $736,274 in 2021. The previous year it received $699,587.
In May the Saskatchewan government announced $17.5 million in operating grants to 21 independent schools and four "historical" high schools in the province for the 2022-23 school year.
"This includes an increase of $2.6 million to support increased enrolment and the creation of a new funded independent school category," the province said. "Final allocations will be reviewed and adjusted once actual September 2022 enrolments are confirmed."
Qualified independent schools of up to 399 full-time students receive 50-per-cent funding of the provincial, per-student average, while "historical" high schools receive 80 per cent, according to the province's release in May.
Institutions under the new certified independent school category will receive 75 per cent of the average per-student rate, the province said.
Leaving the allegations to the criminal justice system is not enough, said NDP education critic Matt Love. He wants the education minister to publicly address the stories coming from former students of the academy.
"They have prioritized these types of schools with new categories and massive increases in funding," Love said. "We haven't seen the same priority given to the 625 schools within our 27 publicly funded divisions."
Former students of the private Christian academy also say school and church officials pressured them into working on political campaigns, allegedly including former MP Maurice Vellacott, Saskatoon's longest-serving mayor. Don Atchison, and Saskatoon city Coun. Randy Donauer.
"Public dollars should not be going to schools engaging in partisan campaigns on behalf of, you know, running candidates,"Conway said. "That's unacceptable."
With files from Jessie Anton and Jason Warick