Keith Johnson, the former head of a Christian school that’s been called a hub of physical and emotional abuse, has gone missing, presumably to avoid getting served with legal documents in a $25 million lawsuit.
Earlier this summer, 18 former students of the Christian Centre Academy (now called Legacy Christian Academy) in Saskatoon told the CBC about how they suffered while attending the private religious school. One was subject to a “violent exorcism” to cast out his “gay demons.” Another was placed in “solitary confinement” every day for two full weeks.
The school’s response was to deny everything and insist things are different today… even though many staff members were the same, and even though former administrators were still working in the profession, and even though there was never any formal apology.
Making matters worse was that the school received government funding for decades. It amounts to roughly $700,000 per year today.
A week after the CBC’s Jason Warick published his first piece on the school, the victims, now numbering more than 30, filed a class action lawsuit against the school and the Saskatoon Christian Centre Church (now known as the Mile Two Church) which oversees it.
An undisclosed number of former student plaintiffs are seeking $25 million in compensation, as well as other unspecified damages. They also want an immediate and permanent closure of the school, and to permanently prohibit all of the defendants from working in schools with minors.
Since that lawsuit was filed, you can tell how seriously some people are taking it. For example, one church that housed a private school run by some of those former staffers/administrators decided to terminate the school’s lease. Gutsy move but the right call.
On the other hand, Brien Johnson, the current pastor at Mile Two Church, spurred outrage last month after he claimed some of the allegations were “exaggerated.” (He didn’t get any more specific.)
But the most shocking response may be the one from Keith Johnson (Brien’s father), who used to be the head of both the school and the church. As one of the defendants in this lawsuit, Johnson needs to be served papers alerting him to the charges… but officials can’t seem to find him anywhere. They believe he may have packed up his stuff and relocated to Oklahoma.
According to court records, the lawyer for the plaintiffs is going to unusual lengths to make sure Johnson is aware of the lawsuit.
Johnson’s son-in-law, who has admitted he’s in contact with Johnson, will be responsible for getting the papers into Johnson’s hands, a process known as “substitutional service,” stated [Court of King’s Bench Justice Grant] Currie’s written order. If that doesn’t happen, the proposed class-action lawsuit could proceed without Johnson having any say in it.
“It’s not normal,” [plaintiffs’ attorney Grant] Scharfstein said. “He was avoiding service, avoiding responsibility, and was making it difficult. We will find him.”
The people who knew him best say this is typical:
“It’s very much like Keith Johnson behaviour. I would imagine that he thinks he’s in the right… I don’t see him ever like taking accountability for any of this,” said one of the plaintiffs, Cassie Klassen.
Klassen is a former student and church member. She’s also Johnson’s granddaughter. Now living in Dallas, Klassen said she cut off all contact with Johnson as an adult.
“He just has a very big inflated ego and I don’t think he could ever come to the point where he would actually admit any wrongdoing. It’s just kind of like a classic cult leader,” Klassen said, echoing cult comparisons made by other students and the church’s former youth pastor.
These are not the actions of a man who believes he has nothing to hide.
Even though a separate investigation is taking place by a Saskatchewan children’s advocate and even though a government official will oversee the school this year, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence piling up against the Christians who ran this school for years. They behaviors were indefensible and it appears the man most responsible for them doesn’t even want to offer up a defense.
We’re fortunate that the victims have the courage to speak out and that government officials are stepping in, because it’s clear the Christian leaders in charge of all this cannot be trusted to police themselves. They’ve harmed dozens of people—possibly many more—and refuse to take complete responsibility for their actions.
Running away won’t solve the problem. For Keith Johnson, the problems are just beginning.