Ex-student calls plan to close Saskatoon Christian school a ‘rebrand’

Heywood Yu/Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The entrance of Legacy Christian Academy, formerly called Christian Centre Academy is seen in this 2022 file photo.

Bryn Levy, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

A former student of a scandal-ridden private Christian school says a letter outlining a plan to close the facility later this year shows the extent to which senior school officials are “in bed with” Saskatchewan’s provincial government.

Caitlin Erickson is a lead plaintiff in a proposed $25-million class action lawsuit being pursued in Saskatoon Court of King’s Bench by former students against staff and senior officials at Legacy Christian Academy, formerly known as Christian Centre Academy.

She shared Thursday a letter allegedly sent to a high-level official at the Ministry of Education by Marguerite Wiggins, a former vice-principal and current advisory consultant for Legacy. Legacy officials have so far not responded to a request for comment and have not confirmed the letter’s authenticity to Postmedia.

In the letter, Wiggins writes that Legacy plans to close in June amid falling student enrolment blamed on “ongoing allegations” tied to the school’s previous Christian Centre Academy moniker, as well as its current incarnation as Legacy Christian Academy.

Those allegations include accounts of physical, emotional and sexual abuse contained in the proposed class action, none of which have been tested in court.

To date, police have also laid criminal charges against four people associated with Legacy.

Former gym teacher and track and field coach Aaron Benneweis pleaded guilty in October 2023 to the sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a student between 2008 and 2012, when she was between 13 and 16 years old.

Another three men are due to face trials on charges of assault with a weapon.

In the letter Erickson shared, Wiggins says Westdale Christian School, another Christian faith-based institution, plans to restart its operations and take over the current Legacy Christian Academy building at 102 Pinehouse Drive.

“The hope is our families will transfer to Westdale without having to continue under the cloud of allegations that is the current situation,” the letter states.

Erickson noted there are ties between Legacy’s parent church and Westdale, and that Westdale previously hired former Legacy staff. She said she doesn’t believe much will change at 102 Pinehouse should the plan go ahead to have Westdale take over the building.

“It’s rebrand number three,” Erickson said, referencing Legacy’s previous name change. She went on to call for senior figures behind the school to “step back” and “re-evaluate” whether they should continue being involved in children’s education.

The scandals surrounding Legacy have led to increased scrutiny of Saskatchewan’s network of Qualified Independent Schools, a classification created in 2012 for private, often faith-based institutions that receive provincial funding at a rate of 50 per cent of the per-student funding provided to public schools.

Legacy itself has been subject to a provincially appointed administrator, while Grace Christian School, another Saskatoon-based QIS, was shut down in 2022 after its director refused to co-operate with a government-appointed administrator.

The letter Erickson shared includes Wiggins expressing that Legacy “has very much appreciated” the province’s support, particularly over the last decade, before going on to personally thank the senior ministry official in glowing terms for his work.

Erickson said it’s “really disheartening” to see Legacy still apparently enjoying a cozy relationship with the province despite its entanglement in civil and criminal court cases, adding it seems the school can apparently “tell” the province what they’re doing, rather than ask for permission.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill was “not available” to speak to media after Thursday’s sitting of the provincial legislature. A written statement sent to Postmedia Thursday afternoon noted that the Ministry of Education “has not received notification of the closure of Legacy Christian Academy.”

The statement went on to say Cockrill “is aware” that Westdale is interested in relocating to the facility currently occupied by Legacy.

“Should this occur, all conditions currently in place for Legacy Christian Academy would remain in place at Westdale Christian School,” the statement concluded.

Matt Love, education critic for the Opposition NDP, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that schools receiving provincial funds “should follow the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.”

“I sure hope that the Moe government sees this for what it appears to be – a rebrand – but I’m not holding my breath,” Love added,  going on to note that Legacy “has a history of abuse and the Sask. Party still increased their funding more than our public, Catholic, and French schools got.”