Sask. city councillor implicated in physical, emotional abuse allegations at private Christian school, church

The growing list of officials accused of physically and emotionally abusing children at a private Christian school and church in Saskatoon now includes a sitting city councillor.

Dozens of students have filed criminal complaints against various officials following CBC News investigation

Two former students say current Saskatoon city councillor Randy Donauer was one of the officials involved in the physical and emotional abuse of students at a local church and school. Donauer declined to address the specific allegations, but denied any wrongdoing. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The growing list of officials accused of physically and emotionally abusing children at a private Christian school and church in Saskatoon now includes a sitting city councillor.

The lawyer representing former Christian Centre Academy students says allegations against longtime councillor Randy Donauer are being added to the dozens of criminal assault complaints made to Saskatoon police.

"We're pushing forward on it," Saskatoon lawyer Grant Scharfstein said.

"If in fact he's done what [the students] are alleging, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, then yes, I think he has to be treated like everybody else."

Former student and church member Coy Nolin made a statement to police regarding Donauer and has shared it with CBC News. Nolin described an alleged "paddling" incident by Donauer at a church camp, as well as Donauer's actions afterward.

"I cried. [Donauer] waited till I stopped, then hugged me and we prayed," reads the statement.

Donauer declined interview requests, but emailed a statement to CBC News.

"My understanding is that a representative of the school will be making statements at some point about the school's current and previous practices, once the Statement of Claim has been received and reviewed with legal counsel," Donauer wrote, referencing the $25-million lawsuit recently filed by students against other officials.

"Personally, I do not expect to have any role in the court process given my conduct and I see no value in providing any further comments."

When CBC News received further details from students and shared them with Donauer, he again replied briefly by email.

"If there are rumours being shared about me, I vehemently deny any wrongdoing. If any legal claims involving me are made I will vigorously defend [against] them," Donauer wrote.

Former students of the Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy, say all government subsidies and tax breaks for the school and adjacent Mile Two Church must be halted until police and prosecutors have dealt with their abuse complaints and the government has conducted a full investigation of the school's practices.
Two former students of the Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy, say current Saskatoon city councillor Randy Donauer was one of roughly two dozen officials who emotionally and physically abused them. A lawsuit has been filed, and police are investigating criminal complaints from more than 40 students against various officials. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Earlier in the summer, Donauer admitted in an email to CBC News that Christian Centre Academy students were recruited during class time to campaign for the school's preferred political candidates. He admitted he received inappropriate endorsements during church services at the adjacent Saskatoon Christian Centre before his first election victory in 2010. Donauer also organized distribution of campaign materials for other politicians during church services.

But now students interviewed by CBC News say Donauer was also involved in the physical violence, and the culture of fear and intimidation. Two of them say Donauer was one of the officials who beat them with large wooden instruments, a practice known as "paddling." Other students told stories of a normally mild-mannered Donauer suddenly becoming enraged and threatening children during Sunday school or other events.

The school and church, still operating out of a building in Saskatoon's Lawson Heights neighbourhood, are now known as Legacy Christian Academy and Mile Two Church.

Donauer was not a teacher, but served various roles within the adjacent church. The students said that for many years, Donauer was the "enforcer" for former pastor Keith Johnson. Johnson wrote the child discipline manuals used by the school and church. Students and a staff member say Johnson demanded unquestioning obedience.

"Randy was in Keith's inner circle, his right hand," former student Christina Hutchinson said.

Donauer would "be all calm, but then just change. He could be so cruel," her sister, Stefanie Hutchinson, said.

Each summer, Christian Centre officials rented Living Waters Bible Camp, 100 kilometres north of Saskatoon, said former students Coy Nolin and Caitlin Erickson. In 2003, when they turned 16 years old, Nolin, Erickson and others were "volun-told" by church officials that they'd be working as camp counsellors, Erickson and Nolin said.

Donauer was one of the main officials overseeing the camp, Erickson said. She said that, like the other youth counsellors, she was not paid, even though she was a certified lifeguard and gave private swim lessons in addition to her counsellor duties.

In an interview, Nolin said he was accused one day of spreading a rumour about some of the campers. He said Donauer took him to the adult cabin and berated him.

"Then he made me bend over a chair," Nolin said.

Nolin said he knew what was coming next. He realized he was about to be hit with a large wooden paddle, just as he and other students say they had been paddled by other officials many times at school.

But Nolin said this incident with Donauer was particularly memorable because paddlings at school were done over a desk, a hard chair or the lap of a witness. This was a "cushy chair" that left him awaiting the punishment "at a weird angle."

Nolin said Donauer struck him hard three times with the hand-made implement similar to a cricket bat.

"Then we prayed after that. It's like it's out of love, but it's weird and creepy," Nolin said.

"It was even more awkward, too, because I was a teenager when that happened and because I was a counsellor, no one was involved or called until afterwards."

Nolin was not allowed to talk to Erickson for the remainder of the camp, but she said Nolin confided in her after returning to Saskatoon.

Nolin said this paddling, like those he received from other officials at school, left him crying, limping and sore.

He said it's not the worst violence he faced — that was the exorcism and paddling he said he endured as a 15-year-old at the hands of four other church and school officials trying to rid him of his "gay demon." But Nolin said it's important to hold everyone to account, especially those still in positions of power.

"I'm disgusted that [Donauer] has gotten to the point where they are political-wise," Nolin said. "It makes me sick, knowing what he's done."

Nolin's brother, Cody, wasn't paddled by Donauer, but said he and Coy would often talk about the paddlings and "brainwashing" they suffered from other officials before their family left the school following the exorcism in 2004. Like other students, it took them years to open up publicly.

Coy Nolin and another former Christian Centre Academy student say current Saskatoon city councillor Randy Donauer physically and emotionally abused them. Dozens of students have come forward with allegations against more than 20 other officials following a CBC News investigation. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Cody said that when Coy's story was featured in the first CBC News story on the school earlier this month, it gave Cody and others the courage to do the same.

"I'm so proud of him," Cody said.

Another former student told CBC News that Donauer also paddled them.

The student spoke on condition their name would not be used. They said they fear damaging their relationship with close relatives who are still Mile Two Church members. They also said the relatives would face repercussions from the church.

The student said Donauer paddled them nearly a dozen times.

"I just happened to be what they considered a disobedient child and got in trouble a lot. Randy Donauer was almost always involved in the disciplining," they said. "He alone was responsible for the majority of the abuse I received."

Donauer and another woman would take the child into a basement room during Sunday school or other events, the person said.

The female official would pray in unintelligible sounds known as "speaking in tongues" and hold them down while Donauer administered the paddling, the former student said.

"I remember it clearly. Sometimes they would take my pants…off in order to make the discipline even more painful," they said.

Other students say they weren't hit by Donauer but were afraid of him, in part because he was willing to do anything for Pastor Keith Johnson.

"If Keith was angry, so was Randy. If Keith wanted someone kicked out, Randy would do it. If Keith said the building was too cold, Randy would find someone to turn up the heat. If Keith didn't like what someone was saying, Randy would go tell them to be quiet," Stefanie Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson and Cody Nolin both said they clearly remember one particular Sunday school service overseen by Donauer and others. Halfway through one song, Donauer stopped the children, they said. Hutchinson said Donauer became "all red-faced" and started yelling at them to sing louder. They said Donauer told them they weren't putting their hearts into it.

"He became unhinged. He was screaming at us. It was terrifying," Nolin said.

He said Donauer ended his rant by threatening, "If you don't do it, I will paddle every one of you."

They said no one doubted Donauer's sincerity. The children sang as loudly as they could and no punishment was administered.

When a CBC News investigation first published multiple allegations of child physical and emotional abuse, solitary confinement and exorcisms at the school and church earlier this month, Donauer posted a response on Twitter.

"I denounce abuse of any kind and encourage anyone who has been abused to contact the police immediately," Donauer tweeted on Aug. 2.

Since then, the number of students filing criminal complaints against various officials has more than doubled, to 40, according to the Saskatoon Police Service email this week.

The students' lawyer, Grant Scharfstein, said 50 students have signed on to the proposed $25-million class action lawsuit. Donauer was not initially named as one of the nearly two dozen civil defendants, but court documents state the list is not exhaustive and that more names could be added as more students tell their stories.

Scharfstein said they intend to add Donauer as a defendant in the coming weeks. Scharfstein said other officials are being implicated as more students come forward. When all new information has been compiled, they plan to add these new names to the lawsuit through a single amendment, he said.

Students interviewed say it has been incredibly stressful to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered, but it's even harder to name Donauer and others still in positions of power.

"Going against Randy has somehow been even more difficult," Coy Nolin said.

In the emailed interview request sent earlier this month, CBC News asked Donauer, "Have you ever paddled a child connected to your roles (in the church or school)? If so, please provide dates and all details. If not, were you aware that this practice continued to occur there after the January 2004 Supreme Court ruling (banning all corporal punishment by officials), according to multiple students and the former youth pastor?"

Donauer declined to respond directly, instead saying, "I do not expect to have any role in the court process given my conduct."

Erickson, the Hutchinsons and other students describe bringing home waivers for their parents to sign that would allow school officials to continue paddling them after it was outlawed by the Supreme Court. They also say they were told to call paddlings "time outs" if any police or outsiders asked about them after January 2004.

None of the allegations against officials have been tested in criminal or civil court. But the church's former youth pastor, Garrett Davis, told CBC News last month he witnessed many traumatic incidents, and the "cult-like" environment described by students is "100 per cent true."

In Donauer's earlier emailed response, where he admitted to inappropriate political activity, Donauer distanced himself from former pastor Keith Johnson.

"I have NO relationship with Keith Johnson," Donauer said in an email. "We are estranged and have been for many years. Our relationship was toxic for several years prior to his departure because my views are in direct opposition to his on many things."

Keith Johnson, who left Saskatoon a decade ago and is believed to now be preaching in the southern U.S., could not be reached for comment.

A man with grey hair wearing a suit stands on a stage.
Keith Johnson formerly held the top role at the Saskatoon Christian Centre church and Christian Centre Academy school. Two former students say current Saskatoon city councillor Randy Donauer was Johnson's 'right hand' and was one of the officials who physically and emotionally abused them. (Lifehouse Fellowship Church/YouTube)

Keith Johnson's son, Brien, is now the head pastor at Mile Two Church.

"I have a healthy relationship with Brien," Donauer wrote. "He is my Pastor and a friend. He has worked hard to take the church in a drastically different direction than Keith, and to create a healthy environment and to welcome reconciliation with those that Keith hurt, both inside and outside the congregation. He has been a catalyst for change."

Brien Johnson and other current church and leaders have promised at various points to do interviews with CBC News, but then declined. In emails, they said they will comply fully with any investigation and encouraged anyone who "feels" they were abused to contact police.

They also made three central points: that no paddling has occurred there in more than two decades, that exorcisms have never been performed at the school and that they have apologized multiple times to victims.

More than a dozen students interviewed said that based on their experiences, all three of those claims are false. They said no one has apologized to them, that paddling was common practice well after the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ban on corporal punishment by any officials, and that exorcisms did happen at school and elsewhere.

They also pointed to a recent sermon by Brien Johnson, posted on the church's own social media, in which Johnson says some of the abuse allegations are "exaggerated."

The former students say this all shows the continuing efforts to "gaslight" traumatized students and deny responsibility.

Former students, provincial Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck and others are calling on the Saskatchewan Party provincial government to shut down the school or at least suspend its $700,000 in annual public funding. Instead, Education Minister Dustin Duncan appointed administrators to oversee Legacy and two other private Christian schools where people named in the students' lawsuits were now working.

Saskatoon police are encouraging any other students who believe they were abused to contact them. Some of the files have already been investigated and passed to Crown prosecutors to decide if charges are warranted. Students are still eligible to sign on to the lawsuit, and there's no time limit on filing criminal complaints for assaults on children.

Scharfstein said Donauer and those in positions of power should be treated no differently than any other citizens.

"I mean, all sorts of people involved in this have gone on to other careers," Scharfstein said. "But if they did what's being alleged that they did, they'll have to deal with the justice system."


  • A previous version of this story stated that Coy Nolin was 14 in 2003. In fact, he was 16.
    Oct 12, 2022 6:06 PM CT


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.