Sex abuse al­leged at coun­try’s old­est Bi­ble school

Ac­cuser claims more than 80 former stu­dents of Al­berta fa­cil­ity say they were vic­tims, too

Ottawa Citizen - - CANADA - STEPHANE MASSINON AND JEN GERSON

THREE HILLS, Alta. • Canada’s old­est Bi­ble school is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the RCMP af­ter a former stu­dent came for­ward claim­ing she and dozens of other chil­dren were abused by staff as far back as the 1950s and as re­cently as five years ago.

Linda Fossen, 53, filed a com­plaint with RCMP ear­lier in the week, al­leg­ing years of sex­ual abuse at the hands of her fa­ther, who at the time, was a part-time em­ployee at the Prairie Bi­ble In­sti­tute, in Three Hills, Alta., about 100 kilo­me­tres north­west of Cal­gary. A sec­ond vic­tim has since come for­ward to the school prin­ci­pal, Mark Maxwell.

On Satur­day, Maxwell said he had been ap­proached by a wo­man claim­ing sex­ual abuse at the school 35 years ago.

“There would ap­pear to be an abuse vic­tim,” he said. “In other words, I’ve got her name, and some­one on staff that she has iden­ti­fied ... We may have a real sit­u­a­tion.”

Maxwell, who was in On­tario over the week­end, said he plans to ad­dress the is­sue on Mon­day when he re­turns.

“We’ll find out where (that staffer) is, and we’ll start go­ing down that road,” he said. “It’ll be up to the (al­leged) abuse vic­tim what they want to do.”

Maxwell said he’ll ap­proach po­lice only with that per­son’s con­sent.

As for Fossen, she be­gan her cru­sade in 2008 af­ter pub­lish­ing a mem­oir about her or­deal. Be­cause of that book, she claims more than 80 for- mer stu­dents have told her that they, too, were vic­tims of sex­ual, emo­tional and phys­i­cal abuse.

She says ad­min­is­tra­tors at the time — ea­ger to keep the in­sti­tute’s pol­ished im­age clean — cov­ered up years of sadis­tic abuse, dis­missed al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault and kept a known pe­dophile on staff.

And, she claims, def­er­ence to the school’s suc­ces­sion of ad­mired, au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­ers al­lowed it to hap­pen.

She is now push­ing the In­sti- tute to ac­knowl­edge the abuse and rec­on­cile with its vic­tims — or risk lit­i­ga­tion.

Al­ready on the fi­nan­cial brink, the al­le­ga­tions could prove a fa­tal blow to the school, which be­gan as a class of eight chil­dren in an aban­doned farm­house in 1922.

Fossen, who now lives in Florida, filed a com­plaint with po­lice this week in which she says her fa­ther sex­u­ally as­saulted her re­peat­edly. The abuse be­gan in the early 1960s and es­ca­lated when he be­gan study­ing and work­ing part- time at PBI, she claims.

In 2006, her PBI high school class con­tacted her about a re­union. “I re­vealed to them that I had been abused and, one by one, kids in my class con­tacted me and said: ‘I was too.’ I was just stunned,” she said.

Most of the al­leged vic­tims, Fossen claims, were chil­dren of former PBI staff mem­bers.

Fossen said she doesn’t want the school to close, and seeks no fidu­ciary re­ward for her pain. Rather, she and two other alumnae started a Face­book group to en­cour­age other vic­tims to come for­ward.

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