Trial of former Legacy Christian Academy director hears details of alleged paddlings

Legacy Christian Academy, formerly known as Christian Centre Academy, is a private Christian school now at the centre of a class action lawsuit in which former students claim years of abuse. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)
Legacy Christian Academy, formerly known as Christian Centre Academy, is a private Christian school now at the centre of a class action lawsuit in which former students claim years of abuse. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)

Warning: this story contains descriptions of alleged assaults against children

A trial into the former director at Legacy Christian Academy, the Saskatoon private school formerly known as Christian Centre Academy, is underway in Saskatoon Provincial Court.

Last fall, John Olubobokun, 63, pleaded not guilty to eight counts of assault with a weapon. The trial is scheduled for June 10 to 13, 2024.

Proceedings began Monday, with court hearing Olubobokun is facing an additional charge, bringing the total to be litigated in this trial to nine.

Court heard testimonies from three Crown witnesses Monday. Crown prosecutor Sheryl Fillo said they plan to call six witnesses.

The first three witnesses were brothers who all attended school at some point. Olubobokun was seen sitting with his defence lawyer, Daniel Tangjerd, listening to testimony and taking notes.

Cody Nolin was already attending the church associated with school, and was later moved from his public school to the academy.

Paddling as a 'scriptural discipline': witnesses

The Crown asked witnesses to describe the types of punishment received during school time. Witnesses said paddling was the standard punishment and described the wooden paddle as sturdy and thick, like a cricket bat.

"You were forced to bend over a chair or desk to present your bottom, and they would strike you three times," Nolin said.

In 2003, Nolin said he refused to be paddled and was forced to leave the school and church. He said he was ex-communicated, even from family.

In order to return to the school, Nolin said he had to meet Olubobokun and another staff member who told him he needed to be paddled to come back for the new school year.

That meeting happened in August 2003, Nolin said.

"You know it's coming, but you're kind of used to it because it happened so much before," Nolin said about getting paddled, noting that the church sold paddles in the commissary for parents to use at home.

Nolin said Olubobokun struck him three times at the meeting.

"I didn't react or anything so he asked if I was stuffing my pants," Nolin said, referring to a practice of wearing a second pair of underwear that students developed to decrease pain from paddling.

"I pulled up my pants, walked out of the school and never returned. I left and didn't see my siblings for a year."

Nolin said he never gave consent to be paddled.

His brother, Cole Nolin, said he was paddled in Olubobokun's office "hundreds of times" and said the accused broke or cracked the paddled on occasion.

One on occasion, Cole said he was paddled but did not cry. He said Olubobokun used to say no crying meant not accepting the punishment, so he said he was struck three more times, harder than the first round, which eventually left multiple bruises.

"What would Olubobokun do when the paddle broke?" the Crown asked of Cole.

"They always had a spare," he replied.

Coy Nolin, the oldest sibling, was third to testify. Coy said the school staff called paddling "scriptural discipline"

Coy said he got into trouble when he spoke out during a school assembly. He told the court that he was struck three times, once on the upper legs and twice on the buttocks.

Former students rally over the weekend

On Sunday, former students from the private Christian school rallied in front of the school asking to stop the funding of "the legacy of abuse".

Ahead of this week's trial, former students of the academy held a protest outside of the school over the weekend asking for the "legacy of abuse" to be ended.
Ahead of this week's trial, former students of the academy held a protest outside of the school over the weekend asking for the "legacy of abuse" to be ended.

Ahead of this week's trial, former students of the academy held a protest outside of the school over the weekend asking for the "legacy of abuse" to be ended. (Trevor Bothorel/Radio-Canada)

The students have launched a proposed class-action lawsuit against the academy and the church attached to the school, Mile Two, with allegations including paddlings, coercion, traumatizing rituals and solitary confinement.

The allegations in the lawsuit have not been tested in court.

Caitlin Erickson is the lead plaintiff on the suit and said their protest was also in support of the former students who are testifying at Olubobokun's trial.

"We are just out here to raise more awareness, as we have been doing for the last two years," Erickson said Sunday.

"We really would like to see the provincial government stop funding this place with public tax dollars. It's absolutely insane that they continue to double down and support this place."

Former students of Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon and other protestors gathered outside Mile Two Church on Sunday, June 9, calling for the government to stop funding the school.
Former students of Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon and other protestors gathered outside Mile Two Church on Sunday, June 9, calling for the government to stop funding the school.

Former students of Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon and other protestors gathered outside Mile Two Church on Sunday, June 9, calling for the government to stop funding the school. (Trevor Bothorel/Radio-Canada)

The Ministry of Education said it was aware of the protest and said it is important to support parent choice and the ability to access faith-based education in Saskatchewan.

"We are coming from a place of four decades of abuse victims. And the fact that there has been a new recent criminal complaint is just absolutely sickening. And this is funded by our public dollars," Erickson said.

Saskatoon police said they are investigating a new complaint, filed earlier this month, involving a Legacy staff member.

Former students have detailed allegations against former staff members at the school, and dozens of students have said they filed criminal complaints with police.

Police say multiple allegations of historical assaults were made against Olubobokun in 2021 and 2022.

He also faces four other assault with a weapon charges jointly with another former academy official, Duff Friesen, but those charges were adjourned to Nov. 16.

Aaron Benneweis and Ken Schultz are the other two people who have been charged in relation to the school.