PUPILS at an ‘elite’ private Anglican boarding school in Ontario were subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse, and many had their lives blighted by the treatment they received at the hands of sadistic staff, a judge has found.
At the conclusion of a class action brought against Grenville Christian College by five plaintiffs, Justice Janet Leiper of the Ontario Superior Court said the college and the estates of two deceased former headmasters will have to pay yet-to-be-determined punitive damages for the torture inflicted on the pupils.
One of the headmasters was Charles Farnsworth, inset above. Farnsworth, a priest who died in 2015, regarded homosexuality as the “worst sin” and lectured that gays were “damned to hell”.
The students were taught that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuals, the court heard.
The judge heard that “attractive” girls were ordered to cut their hair and keep their bodies covered so as to not inflame the “lust of boys”. Girls who dressed or behaved “provocatively” were called “whores, bitches in heat, temptresses, Jezebels, sluts and harlots” by the college’s pastoral committee.
During 22 days of hearings in the fall and early winter, the court heard the former students’ harrowing testimony of corporal punishment with a wooden paddle, school-wide public humiliation sessions to shame students for such infractions as “being too haughty” or “smiling too much” and degrading work assignments
As discipline measures, students were forced to clean floors with toothbrushes, pick up leaves on their hands and knees and cut the grass using small scissors.
One student with a prosthetic leg was required to clean the chapel on his hands and knees with a hand-held vacuum. When he asked for a larger vacuum, he was ordered to clean the floor again.
A common disciplinary measure was a wooden paddle delivered to the bare backsides or through the clothing of students by the headmaster or teachers. Students were bruised, sometimes bleeding and sore for weeks, after being assaulted with paddles.
In addition to physical punishments, the former students told of public shaming and humiliation as a disciplinary technique. School assemblies were held five or six times a year to publicly humiliate students who ran afoul of the school’s written and unwritten rules.
The school’s philosophy of strict discipline was part of a “tough love” programme, as the school’s first headmaster, Alastair Haig, described it to the Brockville Rotary Club in 1973.
Grenville Christian College, which is in Augusta Township just east of Brockville, opened in 1969 as Berean Christian School to offer elementary and secondary education to boys and girls. The school closed in 2007.
The complaints of the former students start in 1973 when the school adopted new programming from an American Christian community known as the Community of Jesus, or COJ, run according to “Benedictine monastic tradition.”
The five plaintiffs lived in residence at Grenville between 1973 and 1997. They launched their suit in 2008 and had it recognised as a class action in 2012.
In her judgment, Leiper said the school created an “abusive, authoritarian and rigid culture” that exploited and controlled the young students.
I have concluded that the evidence of maltreatment and the varieties of abuse perpetrated on students’ bodies and minds in the name of COJ values of submission and obedience was class-wide and decades-wide.
Leiper found the testimony of all five plaintiffs, including the transcript of one of the students who has since died, as “credible and reliable.”
At times, the students were taken to the college’s boiler room to be shown the “flames of hell” in the furnace. They were told that if they did not behave, they would go to hell, witnesses said.