Being hit with paddle hard to forget, student testifies at former Legacy Christian Academy director's trial

Warning: this story contains descriptions of alleged assaults against children

Former students of Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon are continuing to testify at the trial of a former school director who is charged with assaulting them two decades ago.

John Olubobokun, 63, has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of assault with a weapon.

On Tuesday, former student Jillian Kudryk testified there was a culture of silence and strict rules based on the whims of school leadership. She said Olubobokun once struck her three times with a wooden paddle because she was too obsessed with a Christian band in the fall of 2004.

"I was told I am giving more attention to the band than my attention to God," Kudryk said.

She said the two instances of paddling she suffered are difficult to forget.

"It bugged me for years, and once I started seeing people coming forward, I decided I should too."

On Monday, students testified that Olubobokun regularly used a wooden paddle to strike their buttocks at the school as punishment for a variety of infractions. They said Olubobokun got them to bend over a chair or desk and usually struck them three times before praying with them.

Kudryk told court she didn't talk to her parents about the paddling because students were "brainwashed" and believed the school and pastor were doing the right thing.

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.
Legacy Christian Academy, formerly known as Christian Centre Academy, is located on Pinehouse Drive. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

So far in their answers to questions from Crown prosecutor Sheryl Fillo, witnesses have painted a picture of an isolating and religiously strict community in and around Legacy Christian Academy, the Saskatoon private school formerly known as Christian Centre Academy.

Caitlin Erickson, a former student who has been outspoken about allegations of abuse at the school, said Olubobokun threatened students with spankings if they stepped out of line and fostered a system of informing on classmates.

She recalled being struck with the paddle for giving attitude during volleyball practice.

"The physical pain was a lot, but the psychological pain was also a lot," she testified. She said the bruises that followed lasted weeks.

Carolyn Nolin, the mother of three boys who testified on Monday, said the school strongly encouraged taking a child-rearing class that endorsed a physical form of discipline. She said paddles were sold by the school and that if a child was at the school, it was basically a requirement for parents to have a paddle.

Olubobokun's defence lawyer, Daniel Tangjerd, has questioned the accuracy of the students' recollections about dates and details, such as the size of the paddle the witnesses said Olubobokun used.

The school is an extension of Mile Two Church, formerly Christian Centre Church, and the two institutions shared a building and leadership. Olubobokun was already a church elder when he was hired as director, court heard on Monday.

The trial, being heard by Saskatoon provincial court Judge Lisa Watson, is scheduled to run until Thursday.

Civil lawsuit and more criminal matters

Olubobokun's trial is just one of the criminal and civil proceedings involving the school.

A former principal, Duff Friesen, also faces multiple charges of assault and is scheduled to return to court in the fall.

Aaron Benneweis, a former coach and athletic director at the school, pleaded guilty to sexual assault and sexual exploitation. He was sentenced in October to two years less a day for the offences that began in 2008 and continued until 2012.

Ken Schultz, a former director and vice-principal at the school, is awaiting trial on charges of assault with a weapon and sexual assault, allegations that he has denied.

A group of students has also launched a proposed class-action lawsuit against the academy and the connected church, Mile Two, with allegations including paddlings, coercion, traumatizing rituals and solitary confinement. The allegations in the lawsuit have not been tested in court.

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