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Search continues for Sask. pastor named in lawsuit who authored spanking handbook

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The plaintiffs who filed a $25-million lawsuit earlier this summer have been unable to find the former pastor at the centre of it.

Pastor Keith Johnson is believed to be living in Oklahoma. According to court filings, he’s been "evading" officials trying various ways of serving him the lawsuit documents.

Grant Scharfstein, the lawyer representing more than 30 former students and members of Christian Centre Academy and Christian Centre Church, said Johnson is the only one out of 20 defendants who hasn’t been served.

“In the vast majority of cases, serving the various named parties and defendants isn't a problem. But from time to time you run into someone who evades service or tries to escape service,” Scharfstein said. “And then you have to get a court to find another way to serve them.”

Saskatoon Court of King's Bench Justice Grant Currie agreed to grant a request from Scharfstein to shift the responsibility to Johnson's son-in-law, who is in contact with Johnson and had agreed to get the documents to him.

The process known as “substitutional service” became Scharfstein’s alternative way of getting the documents to Johnson.

“They're not uncommon, but they're not common,” Scharfstein said. “I have no doubt that he's evading service.”

The allegations of abuse at the school have prompted an investigation into the independent school system in Saskatchewan by the province's children's advocate. The province also appointed an independent administrator to oversee operations at the school this fall.

Some former students are demanding more. They want the government to shut down the school, now called Legacy Christian Academy, or at least suspend the roughly $700,000 in annual taxpayer funds that go towards its operations.

Johnson’s estranged granddaughter and a plaintiff in one of the court documents Cassie Klassen said she wasn’t surprised to see her grandfather's name in the allegations, and she doesn’t imagine he will ever answer to them.

 “I wouldn't be surprised if he's saying something along the lines of he did what God told him to do and now he's just being persecuted for doing what's right. So sadly, I don't see him ever taking responsibility or ownership for any of this,” Klassen said.

Klassen and other former students compared Johnson and his behaviour to that of a cult leader with an inflated ego.

Johnson authored 'The Child Training Seminar', a manual on corporal punishment used at the school. 

Over the past month, there have been numerous attempts to reach Johnson by phone, at his home, or at a church in Tulsa, Okla. he regularly attends.

“He's gonna run, he's gonna hide. He's just playing by the cult leader textbook,” former student Caitlin Erickson said.

Klassen grew up in Saskatoon and is a former student and church member of Christian Centre Academy. Now living in Dallas, Klassen said she cut off all contact with Johnson and other members of the family last year.

Dean Schmidt, the son in-law who initially agreed to hand over the court documents to Johnson, has withdrawn his support and told the official in Oklahoma who met with him that any other visit to his home would be considered trespassing.

With nowhere else to turn, Scharfstein is submitting another application to the Court of King’s Bench to use regular mail to send the documents to him. Scharfstein would also send a copy to his son, Brien Johnson, who's the current pastor at Mile Two Church.

“I think until the day he dies, he will always paint himself in the light of he was right and what he did was somehow justified,” Klassen said.

CTV News unsuccessfully attempted to contact Johnson using his last known phone numbers and addresses. No statements of defence have been filed and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

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