16 Sep 2007

Class-action suit being prepared against Anglican school

Brockville Recorder & Times - Canada

September 13, 2007

By KIM LUNMAN Staff Writer


A lawyer based in Burlington is drafting a class-action lawsuit for hundreds of former Grenville Christian College students alleging decades of psychological and physical abuse at the now-closed private school east of Brockville.

Personal injury lawyer Christopher Haber - who has been soliciting former pupils of the boarding school on an Internet message board where the allegations have surfaced - said "over 1,000" potential plaintiffs across North America have contacted him over the past several days.

"We're currently reviewing and investigating the entire matter with the view to filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the victims," he said in a telephone interview.

"We've had probably over 1,000 inquiries," said Haber. "The magnitude of the response did take us aback. ...There's all kinds of allegations of cruel and unusual punishment at the school."

He said the allegations are being made by former students who attended the school in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

"They're very unusual to say the least and (entail) weird practices ... this school was not run in a fashion that would approach normal," Haber said.

He also said complaints of physical abuse "would definitely be part of the allegations in the claim."

The potential class-action litigation is the latest twist in a scandal that has surfaced over the school in the media and on the Internet after it suddenly closed its doors last month.

School officials blamed the closure on declining enrolment, saying they wouldn't have sufficient funds to complete the school year.

Haber posted his website on the Internet message board several days ago appealing to former students of Grenville Christian College to contact his law firm.

"It's not about money," his website states. "It's about justice. Then money."

But he would not say who will be named as defendants in the lawsuit, which he expects to file as early as next week.

"At this point, we will not make any statements of who we're naming," he said. "We're in the investigation phase."

The potential litigation comes as the bishop of the region's Anglican Church diocese widens his inquiry into allegations of abuse at Grenville Christian College.

Wayne Varley, diocesan executive officer with the Anglican Diocese of Ontario, refused to comment on the legal matter.

"We have received no communication about a class-action lawsuit," he said, noting: "We have no jurisdiction over Grenville Christian College staff."

The church confirmed last week it opened a formal inquiry into complaints against two unnamed clergy connected with the now-defunct school.

"Bishop George Bruce continues to meet with students who have made written complaints," said Varley. He said the bishop is meeting with former students until the end of this month at his Kingston office.

However, he would not disclose how many former students have come forward with the allegations or the nature of their complaints.

The chairman of Grenville Christian College's board of directors, Geoff Jackson, of Waterloo, could not be reached for comment on the potential litigation.

Former students at the school have alleged in the media bizarre disciplinary practices at the school, including physical and psychological abuse. Some have claimed there were so-called "light sessions" in which staff members hauled them out of bed at night to shine bright lights in their eyes and call them sinners.

The church is following the procedure laid out under canon 35 that covers complaints and discipline.

Under canon 35, Bruce will meet with the complainants and then must inform anyone against whom those complaints have been lodged of the allegations and allow them a response.

If there is a finding of misconduct, penalties range from a reprimand to disposing of a priest's ministry.

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