31 Oct 2007

Proposed sale of school in Ontario irks lawyer in abuse case

Globe & Mail - Canada

October 31, 2007

Grenville Christian College, the now-closed Ontario private school at the centre of cult abuse allegations, has been put up for sale and a lawyer representing some of the former students is considering applying for an injunction to halt any transaction in advance of possible lawsuits.

The school's owner, the Community of the Good Shepherd, is understood to have one offer from a potential buyer in British Columbia. But according to local realtors in Brockville, the St. Lawrence River town near where Grenville is located, the owner isn't happy with the offer.

Ottawa businessman Paul Sluyter, a former chair of the school's fundraising foundation, confirmed that Grenville was on the market but said he could provide no further details. He did say, however, that the school had not yet been sold.

In its 2006 report to the federal government on its charitable status, Grenville's board of directors listed the value of the school buildings and property at more than $13-million. The figure is considered conservative. Grenville and its chapel are stone buildings in a park-like setting on the St. Lawrence.

Toronto lawyer Loretta Merritt, a specialist in abuse cases, has told former students she represents that she is thinking of applying for what is known as a Mareva injunction to block the sale of the school prior to the resolution of any civil litigation.

A Mareva injunction is almost never granted by Ontario courts. It requires satisfying a judge that defendants in a case are deliberately trying to dispose of assets to defeat a plaintiff's claim.

A substantial number of former students have alleged they were physically, psychologically and sexually abused at the school over a 20-year period ending in 1997.

The Anglican bishop of the diocese in which the school was located initiated an inquiry on Sept. 6 into two former headmasters who are Anglican priests. Ontario Provincial Police launched a criminal investigation on Sept. 26.

On Oct. 18, the Anglicans abruptly placed their inquiry into limbo after the diocese, the school and one of the headmasters were notified that former students were considering civil action.

A church official said the investigating bishop, George Bruce, would continue collecting evidence but would not make any decisions until after civil litigation and the police investigation were resolved - something that could take years to happen.

The bishop's decision upset many former students who wanted the church to acknowledge that, through the many contacts its senior clergy had with Grenville, it provided the school with a cloak of legitimacy - even though most of Grenville's staff were members of the Massachusetts-based Community of Jesus, labelled a cult in the U.S. media.

Ex-students have said they were physically assaulted by staff. Female ex-students said they were routinely sexually humiliated by being called sluts and whores, and at least three have said they were inappropriately touched. Many students have talked to Bishop Bruce about being victims of alleged brainwashing practices.

The school's directors have engaged a Toronto legal firm specializing in civil litigation that is now interviewing former staff members.


No comments:

Post a Comment