WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
RCMP and other agencies are investigating after an exorcism and other activity allegedly took place at a children’s Bible camp near Saskatoon.
In addition to the alleged exorcism conducted earlier this summer, it’s unclear how the man in question was approved to work with kids at the Redberry Bible Camp, located 70 kilometres north of Saskatoon. On the man’s own Facebook page, he details a recent, lengthy history of pornography and drug addiction, domestic violence and firing from his previous job as a camp counsellor.
“This is just nuts. Absolutely astounding,” said Ailsa Watkinson, a University of Regina professor emerita of social work with a specialty in child protection. “If that was my child, I’d be horrified.”
RCMP confirmed an investigation is underway into “two reports of an incident involving a staff member of the Redberry Bible Camp and a pre-teen boy the evening of July 13, 2022.” RCMP urge anyone with more information to contact their local detachment or call 310-RCMP.
Redberry Bible Camp board chair Wayne Dick said they’re looking into the incident. Dick told CBC News the staff member in question was no longer on site with the 100-plus children who attended the camp each week in August, but released few other details.
“I will tell you that we are investigating the situation…. I’m not prepared to discuss it at this point,” Dick said in a phone interview earlier this month. “I can assure you [the worker] is not at the camp.”
CBC News was not able to reach the worker through social media, family and other contacts.
A government official, who reviewed a report of the complaints received, agreed to an interview with CBC News. They spoke on condition their name was not published, as they are not authorized to speak about the case.
The July incident allegedly took place inside one of the camp’s cabins, said the official, where two witnesses reported a child was in medical distress lying on the floor, bleeding from the nose, making sounds and twitching.
The exact age of the boy is not known, but Redberry’s website states it was hosting a “Junior Teen Camp” for kids aged 12 to 14 at that time.
Some children went to get help and came back with the staff member, according to the report.
According to the government source, the complainants reported that the man decided to perform an exorcism on the child as the other children watched.
It’s unclear how long the ceremony lasted, but at the end, the complainants say the man told the children he got rid of the demon that had possessed the child. He then handed his business card to each of the children, said the source.
He told the children they had to stay in contact with him for the rest of their lives, because only he knew how to ward off the demon they’d all encountered, according to the report.
Some of the children were so terrified they called their parents, said the official. Even though the six-day camp was less than half over, the parents took their children home that night and the following morning. RCMP and other agencies were notified.
CBC News asked Redberry board chair Wayne Dick if any other staff were involved, how the man was hired, whether any medical care was provided to the child and whether exorcisms are accepted practice at Redberry, but he did not respond directly.
Dick said he has some of that information, “but I can’t give it to you now.”
Redberry is operated by the conservative evangelical Saskatchewan Mennonite Brethren and has been running since 1943. Partners listed on its website include other Christian groups and the Saskatchewan Camps Association, which provides accreditation.
Lise Milne, a University of Regina social work professor and chair in child and youth health and well-being, called the account “very upsetting.”
“Parents would reasonably expect that in sending their child to camp, they would be in a safe environment, and treated in a way that does not threaten their physical or emotional health and well-being,” Milne said.
She commended the complainants for speaking out. Milne said that doesn’t always happen.
She said handing out business cards to minors under your care is highly inappropriate and that there should be detailed background checks, “especially in regards to previous camp positions.” That now usually includes a review of the applicant’s social media, “which in this case would have revealed some very concerning history.”
It’s unclear whether online or social media searches are conducted on potential Redberry staff, but the staff member in question shares his life story in a pinned post at the top of his own public Facebook page.
The man said he was exposed to pornography and sexual trauma at age eight at a friend’s house.
“Pornography was my first drug, and from nine years old, little did I know I’d be hooked for 12 years,” he wrote.
He said his high school years were filled with drug and sexual addiction, jealousy and rage.
“My family was scared of me, I had ‘friends’ that were scared of me and I had victims at school that were scared of me, I felt like I had turned into a monster, someone I at times could not recognize,” he wrote.
He said his drug use worsened after being diagnosed with cancer, and he admits to “regularly abusing my girlfriend at the time with venomous words of death.” One night, following a “drunken cocaine party,” he went to his girlfriend’s house, he wrote.
“In my drunken rage, I sabotaged everything, I physically abused my girlfriend, screaming so loud it woke up the neighborhood, my girlfriend ran out of the house, banging on the doors of anyone who would listen and next thing I knew my parents and the police showed up,” he wrote.
He initially denied assaulting her, but was fired from his job as a camp counsellor when his girlfriend showed up there with visible bruising and other injuries, according to the post.
It’s unclear whether he was charged or convicted. A Saskatoon Police Service official said they don’t disclose criminal records. The official said police will conduct criminal record checks for employers or people wanting to work with children, but “take no position on the suitability of the applicant, and will not offer any comment or opinion. It is entirely at the discretion of the employer as to whether or not the applicant may be considered for the position.”
The man wrote that, at some point after this incident, he traveled to Mazatlan, Mexico, for a six-month “discipleship training school.” He said this helped him, but his time there came to an “abrupt end” when he “stumbled sexually,” he wrote.
That led to more drug use and depression, as recently as the spring of 2020, he wrote. When COVID-19 hit, he was forced to re-examine his life and renewed his relationship with Jesus, he wrote.
He said in another Facebook post last year that his broken foot was supposed to take nine months to heal, but it was better in just 24 hours. He attached photos of a casted foot and an x-ray.
“Just a beautiful reminder that Jesus heals!!” he wrote.
He continued to post religious monologues from an unknown location on his Facebook page until his account was de-activated last week. The videos, but not his biography, remain on YouTube.
“God saved me from a life of debauchery. God saved me from a life of wickedness,” he said in a 57-minute long video posted in May, which has garnered fewer than 150 views in three months.
It’s unclear when RCMP, other agencies or Redberry officials will be releasing more information or will conclude their investigation.