Provincial government funding to a Saskatoon Christian school must be frozen in light of a series of abuse allegations, says the leader of the NDP Opposition.
"I'm heartbroken to think this was the experience that shaped these young lives," Carla Beck said Wednesday.
Some former students of Saskatoon's Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy, are going even further. They are demanding the school be permanently closed.
"I think it should be shut down — 100 per cent," said former student Jillian Kudryk.
In a CBC News story published Tuesday, nearly a dozen former students spoke publicly for the first time, sharing stories of abuse that included spankings with large, wooden paddles that left them bruised and limping. Others spoke of solitary confinement, coercion and traumatizing rituals such as exorcisms to "cure" students thought to be possessed by demons.
According to Saskatoon Police Service emails obtained by CBC News, a total of 18 students have launched criminal complaints. Following a year-long investigation, police handed the file to Crown prosecutors in April. It's unclear when a decision will be made about possible charges.
School officials have declined multiple interview requests, but sent an email saying things at the school are much different now. They say everyone is welcome, and anyone who "feels" they were abused should contact police.
According to the 2020-21 Saskatchewan government public accounts, Legacy Christian Centre received public funding of $736,274. The previous year it received $699,587. It relies on tuition and fundraising for a portion of its operating budget, but like other private schools, has also been supported by taxpayers for the past decade.
Wednesday afternoon, Beck and education critic Matt Love hosted a news conference outside the school and adjoining Mile Two Church.
They called the allegations "horrifying" and "sickening," and commended the students for their bravery. They called on the governing Saskatchewan Party and Education Minister Dustin Duncan to freeze provincial funding to the school and bolster the oversight of private schools.
"It fills me with resolve to get the the bottom of these allegations," Beck said.
Beck said she's angry Duncan has known about the allegations and criminal investigation since at least June but has not acted. "How can you hear these allegations and not have any curiosity to get to the bottom of it?" she asked.
She said a government that doesn't have interest in protecting students "is quite clearly a government that has lost its way."
Love said Duncan "not only didn't act, but he actually increased funding to these schools … He needs to step up and do his job or step aside."
An official said Duncan would not be available for comment. The official emailed a written statement saying the safety of all students is a top priority. It said no action will be taken at this time.
"No decisions about further investigations or funding will be made until after the police investigation has concluded," the statement reads.
— with files from Jessie Anton