Child and Youth Advocate launched investigation into services and oversight of registered independent schools

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Regent Academy, located inside Plaza 88 (pictured) in Prince Albert is one of three schools placed under a provincial administrator following a lawsuit against Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon.

A full investigation into the services and oversight of registered independent schools in the province has been launched following abuse allegations made against Legacy Christian Academy by 40 former students earlier this month.

The school is one of three with at least one employee named in a lawsuit filed by former Lecacy Academy students. A second school, Regent Christian Academy in Prince Albert, also has an employee named in the lawsuit. A third school, Grace Christian School in Saskatoon, has since been shut down after the director of the school refused to cooperate with the administrator appointed to take on the operations and management of the academy. 

According to a statement released on August 19 by the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Dr. Lisa Broda, she has reviewed all information received from the Ministry of Education to date and determined that a full independent investigation is required. 

“The magnitude of the allegations of abuse and the number of concerns raised in both the public forum and identified in my office’s review of the information gathered over the past few weeks, has informed my decision to conduct [a] full independent investigation,” said Broda.

While the Advocate’s legislation does not extend jurisdiction to investigate criminal matters, she has acknowledged that “individuals impacted by these allegations have taken the avenues available to have these critical matters addressed.”

“I admire the strength and courage of those who have brought these matters forward in advocating for themselves and also for the children and youth currently served by the education system,” said Broda.

The Advocate’s mandate and jurisdiction is defined by The Advocate for Children and Youth Act, which sets out the legislative authority to investigate any matter relating to services to children and youth by any ministry, agency of the government or publicly-funded health entity.

“The matters pertaining to registered independent schools have been a paramount concern since our office became aware of the allegations of abuse in early August,” she said. “My legislative mandate is to ensure all services to children are in accordance with the legislation, regulations, and policies through which they are provided – and that those documents and services respect, protect and fulfill the rights of children.”

Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms that institutions responsible for the care of children – including schools – “conform with standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health […] and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.” 

“Pursuant to the Act, the scope of the Advocate’s investigation will broadly include, but not limited to, an examination of the historical and current services provided to children and youth within the various categories of registered independent schools in Saskatchewan and the oversight and accountability mechanisms established and implemented by the Ministry of Education,” reads Broda’s statement.

“It is critical that young people are being educated in environments that respect their inherent dignity and their full range of human rights,” she said. “Although there are several processes currently underway examining the issues raised by these allegations from various perspectives, an independent, child-rights lens is required to ensure the education system in Saskatchewan – in all its forms – is operating with the best interests of the child at its centre.”

Under the authority of The Advocate for Children and Youth Act, the Advocate can make recommendations to the Ministry and agencies of the government to strengthen service delivery to children and youth in registered independent schools.

In response to Broda’s announcement, Education Minister Dustin Duncan said that the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education will be cooperating with the Child Advocate and they will also be directing the independent schools subject to the investigation to be fully cooperative as well.

The Child Advocate’s investigation will take approximately six to 10 months to complete, according to Duncan.

“Obviously the allegations that have been raised are very concerning, but at this point, they seem to be related primarily to a time before the schools were essentially regulated at all,” said Duncan. “In my time as minister, there has been nothing that has come forward from the ministry as a part of the routine inspections and routine relationship between the Ministry of Education and these schools that raised concerns about student safety.”

“The Saskatoon Police Service have indicated to the ministry that if there were concerns raised as a part of their investigation about student safety today, not related to the past allegations, that they would have notified the ministry,” he said. “It gives me comfort that students are in a safe environment despite serious allegations and the fact that there is a criminal investigation.”

Duncan said the Ministry of Education has already begun work changing the existing regulations to provide additional oversight at the independent schools. So far, they have raised the number of unannounced inspections to 10 rather than three. 

He said the ministry now has the ability to put schools on probation if necessary, which already resulted in one of the schools being closed. 

“We’ve taken significant action and if we have to, I’m prepared to do more.”