Former students of Prince Albert’s Duff Friesen describe seeing their alleged abuser in court

Caitlin Erickson and Sean Kotelmach are former students at the Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon. -- (left) Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix, (right) Sean Kotelmach/Submitted

Friesen charged with 11 counts of assault with a weapon at Saskatoon Christian school

Warning: This story contains details of abuse that some readers may find disturbing.

Sean Kotelmach feared seeing his former principal in public for years. On Thursday, he did see him – in court.

“I felt like we’re finally being heard. It felt good, and without guilt,” said Kotelmach.

Duff Friesen was the principal at Saskatoon’s Legacy Christian Academy prior to moving to Prince Albert. Police charged him with 11 counts of assault with a weapon earlier this week, connected to historical abuse allegations from former students, including Kotelmach.

Friesen was the principal at Regent Academy in Prince Albert from 2008 to 2022, according to his biography on the school’s website. The province said he would not be teaching in the 2022-23 school year once the allegations arose.

Duff Friesen turned himself in to Saskatoon police on Thursday. He’s been charged with 11 counts of assault with a weapon. — Regent Academy/Website

“I feel for those who had bad experiences with that man until now,” said Kotelmach. 

“It’s kind of left me feeling like I couldn’t achieve university level education and my confidence has been heavily affected by those experiences.”

Kotelmach attended the Saskatoon school from Kindergarten to Grade 12. He’s now 32 years old.

Former students have launched a $25 million dollar lawsuit against several former staff members, the church itself, and the province.

The lawsuit lists specific incidents at the school where Friesen was allegedly involved in beating students with a paddle. 

In 2003, reads the document, students were whispering and giggling during a church service. The following Monday, girls from the volleyball team were lined up in the auditorium and scolded by Friesen and two other staff members, according to the lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs, Caitlin Erickson, was allegedly taken into a side room and beat multiple times on the buttocks with a paddle.

Kotelmach said Friesen often hit him for accusations of cheating. 

The lawsuit lists an incident where a student was allegedly spanked for suspicions of cheating on school work. It does not, however, name the student or the staff member.

“When the student did not cry during the spanking, the student was told to pull down his pants. The student told the school administrator to “f*** off” and was subsequently expelled and

excommunicated from the school and the church,” reads the document.

The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.

‘I kind of started to shake at the sight of seeing him’

Erickson and Kotelmach were two of the five former students that attended Friesen’s first court appearance in Saskatoon on Thursday.

They said Friesen was hanging his head. He also wouldn’t stand to address the judge, they explained.

Kotelmach said he felt that Friesen was standing behind a wood corner in the prisoner’s box to avoid making eye contact with the group of former students.

Neither of them had seen Friesen since they attended the Legacy Christian Academy.

“I did, you know, have a bit of a reaction where I kind of started to shake at the sight of seeing him. I think when you’ve experienced trauma by somebody, your body kind of remembers that trauma,” Erickson said.

Erickson said she anticipates more charges. Friesen is the second person to be charged in the case.

Prince Albert’s Duff Friesen has been charged in connection to alleged abuse when he was principal at Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon. — Heywood Yu/Saskatoon StarPhoenix

“This really solidifies that our criminal complaints had merit,” she said.

“All of those years of conditioning, telling you ‘This is right,’ ‘We have a legal right to do this to you,’ ‘It’s a religious right.’ Having Duff Friesen, our formal principal, actually charged and sitting there in court just validated all those feelings that we knew that this was wrong.”

For Kotelmach, his self-confidence is coming back. The nightmares and the fear of seeing Friesen in public has started to subside, all thanks to coming forward with his story.

“It’s like having an argument in the shower with someone at work. You can have all the best lines in the shower, but as soon as you get there to your coworker, it all comes out wrong, right? It’s been like that in my head for so long that I wondered what it would be like just to see him on the stand or just to have that closure,” he said.

“And I feel like I got it – and it’s only the beginning.”