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Trial begins for class-action alleging abuse at Christian private school

TORONTO — A lawyer representing former students suing the now-defunct Christian private school they attended says its late headmasters psychologically tormented pupils in order to break their spirits.

Loretta Merritt told the court Monday that Grenville Christian College controlled every aspect of students’ lives, dictating everything from who they socialized with to the underwear they wore.

In her opening statement, Merritt said students were made to surveil each other and snitch on classmates they caught sinning.

Some of the students who lived in residence at the school between 1973 and 1997 are asking the court to find that the institution and its leadership breached their duty to care to the children in their charge.

The plaintiffs and the defence paint two vastly different portraits of the school.

The defence describes in court documents a picturesque campus in Brockville, Ont., that was equal parts school and loving community.

Lawyer Geoffrey Adair will deliver his opening remarks later today.

The former students who brought the suit allege it was a place of torment where they were isolated and psychologically abused, subjected to exorcisms and beatings.

Merritt says the school discouraged friendships between students and forbade relationships between male and female classmates altogether.

She says all of this was done in the name of breaking students down so they could be rebuilt into what leadership thought constituted a “good Christian.”

Five representative plaintiffs are set to take the stand over the course of a five-week trial, laying out those allegations and others.

But the two men specifically named in the class-action lawsuit, the co-founders and former headmasters of the school, will not be there to defend themselves.

Both J. Alastair Haig and Charles Farnsworth died in the decade since the suit was first conceived. Haig died in 2009, while Farnsworth died in 2015.

The Canadian Press