28 Sep 2007

Ontario police open investigation into abuse claims

Toronto Globe and Mail, September 27, 2007

By Michael Valpy


Former students have complained of psychological and sexual harassment; police ask others to come forward


The Ontario Provincial Police yesterday began a formal criminal investigation into allegations of abuse of students at the now closed Grenville Christian College in Eastern Ontario.

The chief investigating officer, Detective Inspector Brian Haggith, also asked former students for access to the private Facebook Internet site where they have been discussing their experiences at the school for the past several weeks. Former student Tyler Holmes, the administrator of the Facebook group site, gave them access.

OPP spokeswoman Sergeant Kristine Rae said the police were appealing to anyone with knowledge of wrongdoing at the school - which closed in July - to contact them.

For the past several days, the OPP have been conducting what they called a "review" of allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the school, near Brockville on the St. Lawrence River.

Sgt. Rae said the police have now interviewed two witnesses and want "any former student alleging criminal conduct" to call them at 613-925-4221.

The police have named no suspects.

The allegations extend back to the late 1970s. Former students and staff are spread across Canada and the United States.

Meanwhile, Bishop George Bruce, Anglican bishop of the diocese in which the school is located, will conclude his investigation this week into allegations against two priests who were headmasters of the school - Rev. Charles Farnsworth and Rev. Gordon Mintz.

In interviews with The Globe and Mail, the two priests have denied any wrongdoing and have said that allegations of mistreatment of students at the school are without substance.

Bishop Bruce has interviewed more than 20 students and at least one former senior teacher.

After he completes his interviews he will present his findings to the two priests and ask for their response. He will then decide whether to bring priests and former students together in an attempt at reconciliation or refer the priests to a church court. Only half a dozen ecclesiastical courts have been convened in the last century and a half.

One former student has made a formal complaint about Bishop Bruce's predecessor, retired bishop Peter Mason, to the senior Anglican archbishop of Ontario.

Anglican authorities have said they had no jurisdiction over the school but do have jurisdiction over the priests who worked there.

After interviewing several former students, Bishop Bruce suggested to two of them that they might consider contacting police.

Grenville Christian College had an elite reputation among Ontario private schools, charging up to $35,000 annually and listing former lieutenant-governors, a senator and a Canadian diplomat among its patrons.

All but one or two members of the Grenville staff swore what were called "oblate vows" of obedience to the community's leaders.

Former students have told of being held down and beaten with wooden objects, sexually harassed and subjected to psychological humiliation.

The Community of Jesus and the Grenville school staff followed negation of the self as a path to unity with God. Students say they were regularly subjected to harsh discipline for being "haughty" and girls were called sluts, whores and "bitches in heat" because they tempted men.

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