Sask. children's Bible camp officials condoned exorcism as necessary 'spiritual warfare,' say outraged parents

·10 min read
Several parents of children who attended Redberry Bible Camp say Carlos Doerksen, right, the counsellor for a cabin of boys, performed an exorcism on a child who was apparently in medical distress. (Redberry Bible Camp website - image credit)
Several parents of children who attended Redberry Bible Camp say Carlos Doerksen, right, the counsellor for a cabin of boys, performed an exorcism on a child who was apparently in medical distress. (Redberry Bible Camp website - image credit)

Parents of children subjected to an exorcism without consent at a Saskatchewan Bible camp in July say they still can't believe it happened.

"I'm still in shock," said Heather Richinski, adding that her 14-year-old son is now in counselling and spent a recent two-day lake holiday inside the cabin because he feared the "demons" lurking outside.

The parents say it was traumatic and wrong, but the worst part is that top officials at Redberry Bible Camp condoned it after they were confronted.

"They just kept confirming this was a true spiritual experience," said Marci Bond, whose 13-year-old son was one of roughly eight boys in the cabin when the exorcism took place.

"They kept saying this was 'spiritual warfare' and it would likely happen again."

CBC News spoke to Bond and two other parents who picked up their children after midnight on July 14 following the exorcism. They all say Redberry executive director Roland Thiessen and board chair Wayne Dick told them — both that night and in follow-up conversations — that the exorcism was necessary to save the boys.

Thiessen and Dick said the man who performed the exorcism, Carlos Doerksen, had special powers to cast out demons, say the parents.

"They said, 'We've had satanic activity in the past.' They fully backed all of this," Richinski said.

"They said they were fortunate to have Carlos there because he can speak directly to God."

Thiessen referred all questions to Dick. Dick did not return text and phone interview requests Monday. Last week, Dick did say they take the matter seriously, but declined to discuss details.

Don Somers/CBC
Don Somers/CBC

Doerksen did not respond to repeated CBC News interview requests made by email and social media, as well as through his parents, pastor and other contacts.

But in a recent YouTube video, he did admit to conducting the exorcism on the boys, although he preferred to call it a "deliverance."

In the video, Doerksen said he told the parents his actions shouldn't come as a surprise.

"You should know better if you're sending someone to a camp that has the word 'Bible' in it," Doerksen said in the video.

"It's like sending your kid to a 'gay camp' and being upset that they're teaching them 'gay things.' That is your fault for being ignorant."

RCMP said this week that they were investigating and encouraged anyone who had not come forward to do so immediately.

On Tuesday afternoon, RCMP released an update saying no charges would be laid. It said the decision was made after separate investigations by Blaine Lake RCMP and the Saskatoon General Investigative Section (GIS).

"After completing a second investigation, which included interviewing multiple witnesses, Saskatoon GIS officers came to the same conclusion as the Blaine Lake RCMP officers: no contraventions to the Criminal Code occurred and no criminal charges can be laid," the statement said.

"Criminal investigations ultimately boil down to two things: gathering evidence and determining whether that evidence indicates an individual committed a crime as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada," Supt. Josh Graham, officer in charge of the Saskatchewan RCMP Major Crime Unit, was quoted as saying in the release.

"Practices like the one reported may be concerning to some people, but they are not illegal in Canada."

'I don't feel there's been an appropriate response': parent

CBC News received a tip about the Redberry exorcism earlier this month after publishing stories about alleged exorcisms and other abuse at the private Saskatoon Christian school now called Legacy Christian Academy.

After an initial article on the Redberry exorcism and police investigation was published on Sunday, parents contacted CBC News to say they're glad the story is coming out. They hope it will prevent this from happening to other kids.

They said officials at Redberry, run by the conservative Mennonite Brethren, are part of the problem. They also say local RCMP at the Blaine Lake detachment initially told them there was nothing they could do. The parents say they got a call from Saskatoon RCMP earlier this month, shortly after the CBC News investigation began.

"It's been tough. I don't feel there's been an appropriate response," Bond said.

Parents say their children were 'brainwashed'

The week-long camp, one of more than a dozen run by Redberry each summer for the past 75 years, began Sunday, July 10.

Parents say their children told them details of their time at Redbery. The basic facts of all three parent summaries are nearly identical.

Parents say Doerksen "brainwashed" the boys from the beginning. They'd do a full day of vigorous physical activity in the summer heat, then Doerksen would talk to them inside their cabin into the early morning hours about how there are only "true Christians" and their "enemies." He warned the children to be on constant lookout for demons.

Doerksen apparently told the boys signs of demonic possession included any flickering indoor or outdoor light, thinking a girl was cute, or laughing while watching the Simpsons or other "evil" TV shows.

Carlos Doerksen/Facebook
Carlos Doerksen/Facebook

On the third night, Doerksen preached to the group of roughly eight boys until nearly 5 a.m., say parents. That was again followed by a full day of camp activities. The fourth night, at roughly 10 p.m., Doerksen sent them out into the darkness to explore, they said.

One boy thought he saw a monster and they all came running back inside. That's when Doeksen decided to perform an exorcism on one boy who was bleeding from the nose and writhing on the floor. Two of the parents said this apparent medical distress occurred before the exorcism was initiated, while the third said they weren't sure about that detail.

After it was over, Doerksen handed out business cards to the boys. Two parents emailed images of the card to CBC News. It reads "Carlos Doerksen: Apostle" on the front along with addresses for his email and YouTube channel. On the back he quotes the gospel of Matthew.

"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with diseases and cast out demons."

Submitted by Marci Bond
Submitted by Marci Bond

The exorcism concluded at roughly 11 p.m., parents say. Four of the boys wanted to go home and asked to call their parents. Doerksen tried to discourage it, telling the boys it was a complicated situation, say the parents. The boys insisted, so they were taken to the main camp building where other officials were waiting.

"Dad, get me out of here. I'm so scared. It's so messed up here," one father recalls his son saying in a phone call. The father spoke on condition his name was not used because he said his son would be retraumatized by publicity.

The parents made the drives from Saskatoon and surrounding towns and arrived after midnight. They say Doerksen and other officials were unrepentant when questioned.

"I arrive and my son is cowering in the corner, clutching a Bible. They told me it was necessary to cast out multiple demons and it was a 'spiritual event,'" the man said. "I told them I've never heard a bigger crock of s--t in my life."

Parents say they asked if camp staff called 911 for the boy or gave him any medical care. They say camp officials told them it wasn't necessary.

The parents took their children home and at least three have laid complaints with RCMP. They said a social worker has also notified the provincial government.

The parents also want answers about how Doerksen was hired. In a pinned post on Doerksen's own Facebook page, which has been publicly available for more than a year, he details a recent history of pornography and drug addiction, domestic violence and firing from his previous job as a camp counsellor.

Parents say that alone should have disqualified Doerksen from being left to oversee a group of children.

Doerksen gives his account of events on YouTube

In one of his regular YouTube religious monologues, posted earlier this month, Doerksen said it was Redberry camp officials who heard about his work and offered him a job.

Doerksen said he was told, "Carlos, we'd love for you to come down. We'd love for you to spend some time looking after these young boys, equipping them, training them in what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a God-fearing man. Would you like to take this job?"

Doerksen said he jumped at the chance to train young men to be "mighty warriors in the hands of God."

Doerksen said he was alarmed at how some camp officials took their Christianity for granted, calling it "very corn flake, coffee sweetener, ice cream-sprinkled gospel. It was not the real gospel. They sit there and they sing Kumbaya.… they think they're actually teaching these kids something of value, and they're not. They're destroying these kids' eternities."

He said the night of the exorcism, the boys were out observing the northern lights before bed time.

"They came running back in … they looked like they had seen a ghost. Right away, I knew what they saw was demonic.… it was of the kingdom of darkness."

Doerksen said one boy asked for him to pray and said, "I just want this to stop." Doerksen said he put his hands on the boys' chest and back.

"The moment I start praying, he just starts shaking and 'Boof!' His eyes are rolling back in his head. His nose starts bleeding. The lights start flickering. I can tell right away that this is going to be a serious problem. He hits the floor. I'm able to brace his fall. He's shaking. He's convulsing. He's growling. I've got a room full of boys that are absolutely terrified … they are cowering under their blankets," Doerksen said.

"'Out in Jesus' name!' I'm commanding these demons out — and there were definitely multiple demons … It is a full-blown demonic possession. I am in spiritual warfare."

Carlos Doerksen/YouTube
Carlos Doerksen/YouTube

Doerksen said he poured a glass of water, "anointed" it, and forced the boy to drink it.

"The moment he finishes it, the lights flicker and there's a stillness, a quiet. He catches his breath. I was trying hard to not break down in tears," said Doerksen.

He agreed the parents were irate, but said he told them it was necessary and he was chosen for this purpose by Jesus.

'Who's protecting our kids?': parent

Doerksen remained on staff at the camp and was finally moved to kitchen duty after they continued to complain, parents say.

After repeated requests from CBC News on Doeksen's status, board chair Wayne Dick texted on Aug. 17 to say, "I can assure you that Carlos is not at the camp … we continue to look into this matter and have no further comment."

Don Somers/CBC
Don Somers/CBC

Another parent, Liisa Scherban, said she was "horrified" when reading the first CBC News story of the exorcism.

She brought her 11-year-old son to Redberry on July 24. She said parents should have been told that a police investigation was underway, and that a staff member with a history of violence and sexual addiction was working on site.

"It's a Bible camp. We shouldn't have to conduct our own searches and investigations to see if we should trust it," Scherban said. "Who's protecting our kids?"