22 Nov 2007

Second lawsuit launched against Anglican School

Brockville Recorder & Times - November 21, 2007
by Kim Lunman

Former students at Grenville Christian College alleging physical and emotional abuse at the now-closed private school could be squaring off in court against each other now that there's a second class-action lawsuit in the works.

A Toronto lawyer representing 35 former pupils of the elite boarding school east of Brockville in a pending litigation said in an interview she will be seeking a court ruling to certify her clients' case as the only class-action lawsuit against the school.

"A court has the jurisdiction to determine which class-action lawsuit can proceed," Loretta Merritt, a specialist in abuse cases, said in an interview. "Only one can be certified."

Earlier this month, Burlington lawyer Christopher Haber filed a $1-billion class-action lawsuit on behalf of former Grenville Christian College students who attended the school between 1970 and 2007.

They are seeking damages for allegedly being "physically, emotionally and psychologically abused and harassed sexually" over nearly four decades at the school, which shut down in July.

The statement of claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Milton on Oct. 17 names two of the school's former headmasters, Rev. Alastair Haig and Rev. Charles Farnsworth, as defendants along with the Anglican Church, Grenville Christian College, Berean Fellowship International of Canada and a Massachusetts group known as the Community of Jesus.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and no statement of defence has yet been filed.

"The majority of the allegations are the same," said Merritt of her clients' accusations.

Merritt said her clients claim that Farnsworth, of Brockville, forced them to chant "chastity, monogamy and AIDs" in the dormitory's "blue lounge" before they left the school for the summer months.

"He told the girls they would get AIDs" if they weren't chaste or monogamous in marriage, said Merritt, referring to the ex-student's allegations.

Farnsworth, 75, denies the allegations in the class-action lawsuit filed in Milton, his lawyer, Todd Burke of Ottawa, said in an interview. Burke said he is filing a statement of defence in that case for Farnsworth, who was headmaster at Grenville Christian College between 1984 and 1998.

As far as the second pending lawsuit is concerned, Burke said he cannot comment.

"I haven't seen the claim or the nature of the complaints."

Merritt said she is seeking a court ruling under the Class Proceedings Act to determine which lawsuit can proceed.

Haber would not disclose the total number of litigants he is representing in his class-action lawsuit.

That statement of claim alleges former students were beaten with wooden paddles and subjected to "light sessions" in which they were told they were sinners. It also accuses former staff of questioning female students about their virginity and denouncing them as "whores."

Allegations by former students against the elite private school first surfaced on Internet chatrooms and in the media after Grenville Christian College suddenly shut its doors this past summer.

The complaints sparked an Anglican Church Diocese of Ontario inquiry into complaints and an OPP criminal investigation.

Rev. Haig, of Coldwater, Ont., was a founding member of the college and is an Anglican priest who served as headmaster there from 1970 until 1984.


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