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Former principal of Saskatoon private Christian school faces 11 charges of assault with a weapon

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

A former principal and teacher at Saskatoon’s Legacy Christian Academy, a private Christian school formerly called Christian Centre Academy, has been charged with 11 counts of assault with a weapon following an investigation by Saskatoon Police Service’s interpersonal violence section.

Duff Friesen, 65, turned himself in to Saskatoon police on Thursday. He made an appearance in Saskatoon provincial court on Thursday afternoon.

Friesen was released on conditions that he not hold a position of authority over someone under 18 years old — whether it be as a volunteer, employee or otherwise — and that he not contact any of the complainants or their family.

He is expected back in court on July 17.

Former students at the academy were called Thursday morning to let them know Friesen would be in court. Some who appeared in the courtroom gallery say they hadn’t seen Friesen in more than a decade.

“I went into school every single day throughout my childhood being absolutely terrified to be in that building,” said Robynne Cuthbert.

“To have it flipped and see him in a state of, obviously very uncomfortable … it is very validating to feel like our stories are being heard, people are recognizing just how severe the abuse was, and it’s nice to see a shift in the power dynamic.”

Four people stand together with a brick wall behind them
From left, former students Robynne Cuthbert, Sean Kotelmach, Caitlin Erickson and Jen Beaudry were in court Thursday afternoon to follow the case of a former teacher and principal at Christian Centre Academy, which is now called Legacy Christian Academy. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)

Police say the charges stem from historical assault allegations made in 2021 and 2022. The victims and the accused were known to each other through their affiliation with a Saskatoon faith-based institution, according to the police news release.

Former student Caitlin Erickson said she’s aware of more than 60 police complaints toward staff at the school from former students and expects more.

She said students were paddled and punished from minor offences like turning around in their chair and taking too long in the bathroom.

“These are very, very silly and totally normal developmental things that kids do that they would literally beat us for,” she said.

“It’s very hard to concentrate and do your school work when you have the constant anxiety and fear, and you can also hear down the hallway your classmates getting beat.”

Jen Beaudry alleged that, while he was principal, Friesen would aggressively pinch the back of her neck at random.

Friesen is one of more than 20 defendants accused of abusing and failing former students at the former Saskatoon Christian Centre Church and the Christian Centre Academy school, now known as Mile Two Church and Legacy Christian Academy.

Lawsuit against school, staff continues

Former students have launched a $25-million lawsuit alleging physical and sexual abuse.

In the amended state of claim, a plaintiff in the lawsuit accuses Friesen of bending him over a chair and striking him hard on the buttocks three times for telling “inappropriate jokes” when he was 11 years old.

Another plaintiff accuses Friesen and other staff of the school of similar abuse.

“In response to an allegation of whispering and giggling during church service at the Church in the fall of 2003, on the Monday following the alleged whispering and giggling during church service, a majority of the students on the female volleyball team were lined up in the auditorium and berated by the director John Olubobokun, school principal Duff Friesen and coach Fran Thevenot,” the statement of claim read.

“[A plaintiff] was taken into a side room, as were all other students on the female volleyball team, and stricken repeatedly on the buttocks with a wooden paddle within earshot of the other volleyball players.”

The lawsuit has not been tested in court.

Friesen served a stint as principal of Regent Academy — a Prince Albert Christian School — following his departure from Legacy Christian Academy.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911. 

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