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Former Legacy Christian Academy students tell education minister to shut school down

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Former students of a private Saskatoon Christian school facing dozens of abuse allegations told Saskatchewan’s education minister the school must be closed.

“We're talking about four decades of abuse victims, and it takes a very long time for people to come forward. So when they do come forward, they need to be listened to and validated,” former Christian Centre Academy student Caitlin Erickson said during a nearly two-hour meeting with Education Minister Dustin Duncan.

Erickson was one of three former students at a private meeting with Duncan and his staff Wednesday in downtown Saskatoon.

Their lawyer, Grant Scharfstein, was also there for the meeting Duncan requested after the former students persisted to meet with the minister throughout the summer months.

“We simply let them know that there’s been failure for 40 years at the Ministry of Education to properly oversee any of these (qualified independent) schools. It’s been an absolute failure, and it’s not policital,” Scharfstein said.

“It's not just the Sask. Party or the Conservatives or the NDP. All of those parties were in power when this failure occurred by the ministry. It's systemic,” he said.

Dozens of students have come forward claiming they were victims of violence, sexual, physical and psychological abuse, as well as homophobic exorcisms and other abuses.

More than 30 of the former students have filed a $25-million lawsuit against almost two dozen officials from the school and the attached Saskatoon Christian Centre church. Both organizations have since changed their names to Legacy Christian Academy and Mile Two Church.

Allegations have thus far led to an investigation by the Saskatchewan children's advocate. An independent administrator has also been appointed by the province to run the school this fall.

That doesn’t go nearly far enough for the students filing the lawsuit.

“I said you need to close the school,” Erickson said, repeating what she told Duncan on Wednesday. “I'm asking you to close the school. And he responded with silence. And you know, there was really no response given.”

If the school isn’t shut down, Erickson and the other students say they want the province to at least suspend or eliminate the roughly $700,000 in annual taxpayer funds the school receives.

“We made a lot of requests. I can't tell you what will come of it, but I can tell you they know about the issues they know about the problems,” Scharfstein said. “They'll have no excuse saying we didn't know this was going on.”

The Ministry released this statement following the meeting:

"As follow up from the meeting between former students and the appointed administrator at Legacy Christian Academy, yesterday the Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan, met with several former students to listen and hear first-hand of their experiences and historical allegations against Christian Centre Academy, which is now known as Legacy Christian Academy.

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 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 cooperating with the Advocate for Children and Youth in its investigation into the oversight of Independent Schools in Saskatchewan."

MORE STUDENTS JOIN LAWSUIT

Since the students came forward with the allegations, Scharfstein said 75 former students have contacted his office wanting to join the class action lawsuit. He expects many more will come forward as the lawsuit proceeds through the courts.

Scharfstein said the province listened to the students, and he has no doubt some form of action will come of it eventually, but he said Erickson’s final comment to Duncan may have made the greatest impression.

“There's been four decades of abuse in the schools and we don't want a fifth decade under your watch,” Scharfstein said, quoting Erickson’s parting words.  

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