Military chaplain retires after report reveals abuse of students at his former school

A high-ranking chaplain is retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces in the wake of a CBC Fifth Estate investigation that revealed decades of abuse at an elite Ontario boarding school where he worked as headmaster before joining the military.

Lt.-Col. Gordon Mintz facing claims he emotionally abused students at past workplace

Lt.-Col. Gordon Mintz was promoted in 2019 to run the Canadian Forces Chaplain School at CFB Borden, north of Toronto. (@GordonMintz7/Twitter)

A high-ranking chaplain is retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces in the wake of a CBC Fifth Estate investigation that revealed decades of abuse at an elite Ontario boarding school where he worked as headmaster before joining the military.

The Department of National Defence (DND) confirms that as of Nov. 24, Lt.-Col. Gordon Mintz is no longer commandant of the Canadian Forces Chaplain School and is leaving the military altogether.

At least two former students at Grenville Christian College who took part in a class action lawsuit alleging abuse at the school were notified of his sudden retirement in a letter earlier this month.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Mintz is in good standing," reads the letter from the military's chaplain general, Brig.-Gen. Guy Bélisle. "After many years of dedicated service to Canada, Lieutenant-Colonel Mintz is now in the process of retiring and transitioning into civilian life."

More than a decade into his military career, Mintz was called to testify in the lawsuit brought by nearly 1,400 former students against Grenville Christian College. The lawsuit covered the period before Mintz became headmaster but covered his time as teacher there, which spanned just over a decade.

Mintz, who was not named in the lawsuit, repeatedly denied in court any knowledge of physical or emotional abuse. The judge in the case concluded that abuse was widespread and systemic at the school — including during the time when Mintz taught there. There was no finding against Mintz personally.

The Fifth Estate also reported that three former students allege that between 1986 and 2000, Mintz was personally involved in multiple instances of emotional abuse at Grenville. The allegations include the claim that Mintz verbally attacked student Brad Merson while showering by calling him fat and disgusting.

Another student, Paul Wachmann, said he attempted suicide because of the abuse and described Mintz as the ringleader of the bullies who groomed other students to do the same. In court, Mintz denied any involvement in emotional abuse at the school and did not provide comment to the Fifth Estate, despite multiple requests.

WATCH | Fifth Estate's Bob McKeown questions Lt.-Col. Gordon Mintz about allegations

Questions about his time as a teacher

9 months ago
Duration 0:47
The Fifth Estate's Bob McKeown asks Gordon Mintz about accusations of abuse during his time as a teacher at Grenville Christian College.

DND said in a media statement that the Fifth Estate story "had no influence on [the] timing" of Mintz leaving his command. The department also said the military did not ask Mintz to leave and his decision to retire is not linked to the Fifth Estate's report.

"The decision to retire is a CAF member's prerogative when they are eligible to do so," wrote DND spokesperson Maj. Christopher Daniel in a media statement.

According to the military's policy on retirement, regular force members like Mintz and primary reserve members serving after 2004 are not eligible to work beyond age 60 without authorization.

Mintz is 59 years old, according to a Facebook post.

Rebecca Sangster, a former Grenville Christian College student and DND employee at CFB Wainwright, questions the timing. She said she was notified about two weeks after the Fifth Estate's story that Mintz was moving on. 

"The timing to me says that he's been asked to fall on his sword," said Sangster, adding she doesn't know when Mintz told the military he intended to retire.

Citing privacy reasons, DND said it cannot disclose the date Mintz informed the department of his intention to retire. Officials made no mention to CBC of any retirement plans during the Fifth Estate's investigation.

"Him retiring is good," said Sangster. "I certainly don't think he should be influencing future padres in the military. But the fact that they let him is shameful."

Rebecca Sangster, a former Grenville Christian College student, emailed the decision in the class-action lawsuit to Mintz's commanding officer. (CBC News)

Sangster said that while she's glad Mintz is leaving his role, she's not satisfied with how the Canadian Armed Forces handled the matter.

"There's been no accountability," she said. "I wish they'd listened."

Sangster said she attended the boarding school in 1986 and 1987 when Mintz worked in the kitchen. Over the course of more than two decades, Mintz also worked as a maintenance person, then as a teacher and eventually as headmaster. 

Sangster sent a copy of the judge's decision in the lawsuit to Mintz's commanding officer in 2019. She said she received a response from Maj.-Gen. Guy Chapdelaine, who called the case "most concerning" and said that an investigation had been launched. Mintz already had been promoted by that point and had taken command of the Canadian military's chaplain school.

Military captain calls Mintz's record 'impeccable'

In a letter dated Dec. 3 to Sangster, Brig.-Gen. Bélisle said there were no "irregularities" in Mintz's hiring. Mintz's bishop recommended that he work for the military and he "was in good standing with his faith tradition," the letter said.

Capt. Bonita Mason, director of chaplain strategic support and chief of staff to Brig.-Gen. Bélisle, defended Mintz in a Nov. 3 interview with the Fifth Estate. She said Mintz is a "wonderful individual" with an "impeccable record" in the military.

"Until there's an official criminal charge laid, we won't be taking any action," said Mason. 

Mintz served in the military for about 13 years. Members normally serve for at least 25 years to receive a full pension. He likely would be entitled to transfer his pension contributions and top-up to a retirement plan or a new employer's pension plan.

DND said it cannot disclose personal information related to his retirement and pension because the information is protected under the Privacy Act.

The Anglican Diocese of Ontario said it's "not aware of what Rev. Mintz's plans are once his time in the Canadian Forces comes to an end, at whatever point in time that occurs."

Alex Pierson, diocesan executive officer, said Mintz is considered to be "on leave" from the Diocese of Ontario and "would be eligible to express interest in any opening which may exist" in the diocese.

Mintz did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

WATCH | Full Fifth Estate episode: School of Secrets

School of Secrets

9 months ago
Duration 44:50
The Fifth Estate investigates a former boarding school that promised a Christian education and tough love. But nearly 1,400 students who attended Grenville Christian College in Ontario say it was not only tough but brutal, and heavily influenced by a U.S.-based cult.

With files from Saman Malik, Bob McKeown