A lawsuit alleging decades of abuse of former students has been launched against Ontario’s Grenville Christian College, the Anglican Church of Canada and two of its priests, and a Massachusetts group known as the Community of Jesus.
The suit, filed as a class action, claims students at the now-closed school near Brockville were physically, emotionally and psychologically abused and harassed sexually by those who were responsible for their welfare.
The statement of claim, filed by the Burlington law firm Haber and Associates, declares that the Anglican Church had a close affiliation with Grenville but failed to respond to reports that students were being abused, and permitted, either expressly or tacitly, school staff to abuse students.
It says that the Community of Jesus – which U.S. news media have labelled a cult – provided financial support to Grenville and approved “incompetent and immoral persons” to serve as directors, teachers and non-teaching staff and that Grenville’s students were instructed in the community’s “dogma, rites and discipline,” which the statement calls “inappropriate religious practices.”
It says Rev. Al Haig and Rev. Charles Farnsworth, Ontario Anglican priests who between them headed the school from 1970 to 1998, sanctioned physical beatings and approved and participated in verbal abuse and humiliation of students. It also says Mr. Farnsworth participated in beatings.
It says the former students suffered impairment of emotional health and well-being and the ability to trust other people and form or sustain intimate relationships. It asks for $1-billion in damages.
None of the allegations have been proved in court. No statements of defence have yet been filed.
The statement of claim is only the first step in what may well be a lengthy legal process.
As well, several former students have retained Loretta Merritt, a Toronto lawyer who has handled more than 300 abuse cases.
Ms. Merritt said yesterday that she has gathered detailed allegations from her clients of what she termed “horrific abuse” and expects to be instructed soon to begin a lawsuit.
If two suits are launched as class-action cases, the courts will have to decide which will be certified and allowed to proceed.
Grenville Christian College, housed in an early-20th-century stone building beside the St. Lawrence River, announced at the end of July that it would shut down, citing falling enrolment and rising operating costs.
Nov. 6, 2007