John de Ruiter, the self-appointed leader of an Edmonton-based spiritual group, was granted bail Friday after being charged earlier this week with sexually assaulting four women.
Edmonton provincial court Judge Randal Brandt released the 63-year-old de Ruiter on strict conditions, including that he surrender his passport and provide a $30,000 cash deposit.
He is not to contact any of the complainants or their family members, either directly or indirectly through his followers.
He can't be within 100 metres of the complainants' places of worship, schools or workplaces.
The judge also directed that de Ruiter not be alone with any female person except for his wife, daughters or immediate family members unless under the supervision of a responsible adult who is not his wife.
That bail condition does not apply to a 49-year-old woman described as a roommate to de Ruiter and his wife at their rural home.
De Ruiter must also report to a bail supervisor regularly, live at residence approved by the bail supervisor, and remain in Alberta unless relocation is approved by the bail supervisor.
Edmonton police arrested de Ruiter on Jan. 21. Police allege he assaulted four women in separate incidents between 2017 and 2020. None of the allegations has been proven in court.
Police believe there may be additional complainants. Investigators are urging anyone with information to come forward.
"It was reported that the accused informed certain female group members that he was directed by a spirit to engage in sexual activity with them, and that engaging in sexual activity with him will provide them an opportunity to achieve a state of higher being or spiritual enlightenment," Edmonton police said in a statement Monday.
Oasis Group has hundreds of followers
Known by his followers simply as John, de Ruiter is the leader of a group known as the College of Integrated Philosophy, or the Oasis Group, which has been operating in Edmonton for decades. The group boasts more than 300 followers in Edmonton and others around the world.
On Friday, de Ruiter appeared from the Edmonton Remand Centre via CCTV.
He often looked directly into the camera with a piercing stare familiar to his devotees.
The hearing had to be relocated to accommodate spectators, including 33 people who identified themselves as de Ruiter's supporters. His wife and two sons sat in the front row of the courtroom.
Details of the bail hearing, and the complainants' identities, are protected under publication bans.
De Ruiter, who grew up in Stettler, Alta., worked as a shoemaker and a Christian preacher in Alberta before eventually transitioning to New Age practices and developing his own philosophy.
He soon began hosting meetings in his home and founded the college in 2006.
The group previously operated out of the Oasis Building in Edmonton. De Ruiter holds regular spiritual retreats at a former campground near Smith, Alta., a purchase supported by donations from group members.
Followers also attend regular meetings at an office building in St. Albert, outside Edmonton.
Intense group meetings often involve de Ruiter silently staring intently at his devotees for hours. His teachings promise that enlightenment and spiritual awakening can be achieved by letting go of egoistic desires and realizing deeper levels of consciousness.
On de Ruiter's official website, it says that by gazing into his followers' eyes, he is "establishing a connection with everybody in the room."
De Ruiter has acknowledged having sexual relationships with women outside of his marriage.
On his website, he details how he engages in "consensual sexual relations with women beyond the traditional scope of marriage," and characterizes these acts as "independent of desire."
In a statement to CBC Monday, a spokesperson for de Ruiter said he will continue to vigorously contest the charges in a court. "This situation is deeply impactful for those who know Mr. de Ruiter," the statement said.
De Ruiter's next scheduled court appearance is Feb. 24.