Former Christian school students say director’s beatings left welts, bruising

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix John Olubobokun walks into Saskatoon provincial court for the second day of his assault trial. He is charged with nine counts of assaulting former students by hitting them with a paddle as a form of discipline while he was the director of Christian Centre Academy, a private north-end Saskatoon Christian school, between 2003 and 2007.

Bre McAdam

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Caitlin Erickson described how her former private Christian school director hit her with a wooden paddle, leaving white welts and bruising that lasted for weeks.

On one occasion, John Olubobokun hit her so hard that she urinated, she said. She told court she would shut down, dissociate and “try to get through it.”

Each time, he put his hand on her backside, lifted up a fleece vest she was wearing, and hit her on the buttocks between three and six times, leaving enough time between each strike so she didn’t know when the next blow was coming, Erickson testified.

“I’d never been hit like that before,” she said, comparing it to other spankings she’d received at Christian Centre Academy in Saskatoon’s north end. 

Erickson, 36, took the stand on Tuesday; she’s one of several former students testifying at Olubobokun’s assault trial, which began Monday in Saskatoon provincial court.

Olubobokun is charged with nine counts of assault with a weapon.

He is accused of hitting students with a wooden paddle, often in his office but sometimes at their homes, while he was the director of Christian Centre Academy (since renamed Legacy Christian Academy) between 2003 and his departure in 2007.

He is one of four ex-administrators charged with historical assaults after former students filed a $25 million class action lawsuit in 2022, alleging physical and sexual abuse at the school.

The students say they were paddled as a form of “scriptural” punishment, usually for infractions that involved disobeying authority.

Erickson said she went to the school and adjoining church from Kindergarten until she graduated Grade 12 in 2005. It was a very insular community that saw the world as “us” and “them,” she told court.

Students testified that people who left the church and school were ex-communicated.

Erickson said things changed under Olubobokun’s leadership in 2003 when he told the student body he would spank them if they “stepped out of line,” or if they withheld information about students who misbehaved. 

“It was like eat or be eaten. You tell on your classmate, or you’re going to be paddled just like your classmate,” she said. 

While paddling was the culture at the school, they had never been threatened like that, Erickson testified.

She said she was accused of being “too expressive” on the volleyball court, resulting in one of several beatings. She said Olubobokun then prayed for her and told her to ask for God’s forgiveness.

During one of his interrogations, he demanded she sign a pre-written confession after a nurse had removed him from a fellow student’s hospital room, Erickson testified. She said she had been at the hospital when it happened and Olubobokun knew her mom worked there, so he demanded she tell him the nurse’s name so he could get them fired.

Erickson said he pounded his fists on his desk, yelled and hit her with a paddle when she refused.

She testified that Olubobokun forced her to play volleyball against her will, told her she was too “ungodly” to be the captain, and then paddled her after finding out her teammates were seeking guidance from her.

She also recalled seeing Olubobokun’s daughter kick down a bathroom stall door after a game, which she caught and tried to fix. Another student saw her holding the door and reported her to the director, court heard. Erickson said Olubobokun hit her with a paddle for refusing to take the blame.

In another instance, she said Olubobokun accused her of lying about a classmate’s suicidal ideations. Erickson said he called her mom and told her that it had been dealt with and she would be sent back to class. 

Instead, he paddled her, she told court. Erickson said she was alone with Olubobokun, who told her mom there were others in the room.

After a previous incident, Erickson said her mom had told her to let her know if he ever met with her privately again. Sometimes her volleyball coach would be in the room during the beatings, while other times it was just her and Olubobokun, Erickson told court.

She said she made a police report in June 2021 after learning that Olubobokun had opened a new Christian school. She said she was told her entire life that being paddled at school was legal, and it took her “a very long time not to be afraid of that man.”

Many students told court they came forward after discovering that other students were doing the same. Under cross-examination, they said no one told them what to say to police, and that they made their reports before learning about the lawsuit.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Daniel Tangjerd asked Erickson to produce journal entries she said she made about the paddling during the 2003-04 school year. Erickson provided photocopies and after a brief adjournment, Tangjerd said he had no further questions.

Three other alumni testified on Tuesday. Jillian Kudryk, 33, told court that Olubobokun paddled her on two occasions. She said in one case, she came to school with dark hair after a botched dye job. She said her classmates accused her of “going goth” and she sarcastically agreed.

She said she was called into Olubobokun’s office. He told her she was “ungodly” and hit her with a wooden board, she testified. Kudryk said everyone in the room would pray, and her body would hurt for days.

She said she couldn’t defend herself because “You were too scared to say anything.” The former students told court they endured a culture of silence, where they couldn’t talk about their discipline. 

Kudryk said Olubobokun also hit her with a paddle in 2005 after learning she was “obsessed” with a Christian band that had started covering “secular” songs. Olubobokun said this made her an “ungodly influence” on other girls at school, Kudryk said.

Members couldn’t listen to secular music, watch secular movies or read secular books, witnesses testified.

She told Tangjerd that her parents sometimes knew about the discipline, but “It was never really anything you talked about with anyone.” Kudryk also said her parents were “brainwashed” into thinking that their pastor was in charge of their decisions. 

Daniel Webster, 36, testified that Olubobokun hit him five times with a paddle after the director found out he had watched the movie “Anger Management” with his mother.

He said he refused the paddling and told Olubobokun to call his father, who came to the school and asked if they could pursue a different form of discipline. Olubobokun said Webster had to take the “physical correction” or he would be expelled immediately.

Webster said his father watched as he pleaded and protested. He said Olubobokun used the “majority of his strength” to swing the paddle, which left large black bruises and made it hard to sit for a week. 

His father and Olubobokun then prayed together, he testified.

During cross-exam, Tangjerd told Webster he found it puzzling that his father didn’t take him and leave the room.

“I find it puzzling as well,” Webster replied.

Andrew Watson said Olubobokun “spanked” him on two occasions while he attended the school, when he was 15 or 16 years old. 

The first instance happened in a steward room in the church because he had fallen behind on his schoolwork, Watson testified. He said Olubobokun accused him of cheating and threatened to expel him if he didn’t “fix his behaviour.”

His parents were in the room when it happened, he said. Olubobokun made him thank them for the discipline he was about to receive, and then made his parents watch as he hit him three times on the buttocks with a paddle, Watson said. 

He told court the blows were so strong they moved him forward. Watson said students were particularly fearful of Olubobokun’s hits.

He said the second time was in the director’s office with Duff Friesen, the principal at the time, present. He said he leaned over a chair and stared out the window as Olubobokun hit him three times. He was then told to pray.

He said his family was kicked out of the church in 2008. Before then, he wasn’t allowed to talk to any of the families who had left the church, he said.

“That was the control they had on us.”

Crown prosecutor Sheryl Fillo said the Crown plans to call 11 witnesses this week.