8 Nov 2007

$1B suit launched against Anglican College

Ottawa Citizen - November 6, 2007

by William Lin

A $1-billion class-action lawsuit has been launched against Grenville Christian College in connection with allegations of decades of abuse at the school.

Also named as defendants are the Anglican Church of Canada, two priests - the Rev. Alastair Haig and the Rev. Charles Farnsworth - and a Massachusetts-based religious group called the Community of Jesus.

The alleged events of physical and verbal abuse and sexual harassment occurred at the Brockville-area college, the lawsuit said.

None of the allegations has been proved in court. No statements of defence have been filed.

The school, which closed in July after facing declining enrolment, increasing operating costs and changing demographics, did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church, but priests at the school were Diocese of Ontario clergy.

Some of the alleged abuse detailed in the lawsuit includes "light sessions," in which students who were believed to have sinned were awakened from their dorm beds by teachers or other staff.

They would be taken to a dim room, where a bright light was shone on their faces. They would then be denounced as sinners, and humiliated until they renounced their sins, the lawsuit alleges.

Students accused of sinning were brought before small groups of teachers and non-teaching staff, who would subject them to "verbal censure" and humiliate them, the lawsuit alleges.

Sometimes, students were brought before the entire student body, where they would be subjected to the same treatment by some staff, "who would also encourage other students to join in the denunciation of the alleged sinners," the lawsuit alleges.

At times, girls were questioned by teachers and staff about their sexual experiences, and asked if they were virgins, the lawsuit said.

Students accused of inappropriate behaviour were sometimes called "whores" and "sluts" by teachers and other staff, according to the lawsuit.

Students also were subjected to physical abuse, the lawsuit alleges, in which they were sometimes assaulted by staff, who beat them with a paddle.

Former students Tim Blacklock, Mark Vincent and Martin Whyte were named as plaintiffs. Law firm Haber & Associates said other students will likely be added to the class-action lawsuit as plaintiffs.

The first two plaintiffs attended the school in the 1970s. Mr. Whyte attended the school during the early 1980s.

Two Anglican priests who served as headmasters were also named as defendants.

Rev. Haig, a founding member of the college, and Rev. Farnsworth served as headmasters for several years between them, through the 1970s and 1980s. They authorized and approved physical beatings, verbal abuse and humiliation of students by staff, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges that Rev. Farnsworth participated in and supervised such beatings.

The lawsuit said the school and the Anglican Church were closely affiliated, since Grenville Christian represented itself as an Anglican school to students and parents. The Community of Jesus was also closely affiliated with the school, the lawsuit added; some of its members were teachers and non-teaching staff at the college and sat on its board of directors.

The church and the Community of Jesus permitted staff employed under their jurisdiction to abuse students or was wilfully blind to such instances, the lawsuit alleges.

As a consequence of the abuse and negligence, according to the lawsuit, some students now have a difficult time trusting other people and participating in normal family life.

In late September, the OPP launched a criminal investigation into the allegations.

The Anglican Church's diocese of Ontario said last month that Bishop George Bruce would delay his own investigation into the allegations because of the possibility of a lawsuit.


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