Editor’s note: The following story touches on suicide, read at your own discretion.
It was 2013 and he was 17.
“I got suicidal,” Cody Hamilton said.
It was August, near his birthday. Hamilton says he realized he was gay, telling Global News he felt completely alone.
“And if it wasn’t for the fear of hell instilled in me by the church and kind of what came afterwards, I probably would have killed myself.”
Hamilton, now 27, grew up going to Prairie Christian Academy (PCA) from 2000 to 2014 and to Faith Alive Family Church (FAFC), which operates the school.
He said the church taught homosexuality is a sin. He said he remembers vividly being told gay people would go to hell.
And he told Global News Rene Boutin, a leader at the church and the school, called him into his office at PCA that autumn to tell him he shouldn’t be gay.
“The meeting was ‘you need to choose God because this is wrong,’” he said Boutin told him.
“And, ‘I hope you choose right.”
Hamilton says that meeting took place in 2013, when PCA, as a qualified independent school (QIS) received $206,030 for the school year from the Saskatchewan Government.
He told Global News there was no separation between the school and the church, that everything he learned at FAFC was either echoed or accepted at PCA.
“Everything is so closely intertwined that, you know, what you hear in the church is what you hear in the school,” he said.
“It’s like one body.”
“We’re told we’re created in God’s image,’ he said, “and I always knew that that was who I was.”
“So, who was wrong? Was I not created in God’s image? Was he not real? Or were they wrong about homosexuality?” Hamilton recounts thinking.
He said he experienced constant internal strife of knowing who he was and knowing they told him he shouldn’t be that person.
And Hamilton said the school, which received $2,688,231 between the 2012-13 and 2020-21 school years, according to the province’s public accounts, didn’t teach sex education.
“In no way was there ever any discussion about sexuality, gender or, you know, even sexual health or anything,” he said, adding “It was just completely unheard of.”
Hamilton told Global News he was brought to another church leader, Barb Rudoski, to pray the gay away.
Every day for two weeks straight he said he was told to pray with Rudoski and other church members to be different, to not be who he was.
The experience was traumatic, he said, telling Global News he is in therapy and still has nightmares where church members chase him, where he runs into the cold Saskatchewan winter night to escape them.
Janeesa Shirley, who attended PCA from 1995 and 2004, described the same quality of education.
She said she googled what was happening to her body during puberty because “there was no such thing” as sex ed.
“The teachers really expected the parents to teach their kids,” she said, referring to sexual education.
The Registered Independent School Guidelines require independent schools like PCA to undergo government inspections three times a year and to adhere to Saskatchewan curriculum policy.
The government said in a previous release “In August 2022, the Government of Saskatchewan announced it would be increasing the number of unscheduled supervised visits to all independent schools for the 2022-23 school year.”
The ministry says the visits are occurring monthly on average.
Global News obtained most of the inspection reports going back to 2011 using freedom of information legislation. The 2011 report, the last conducted before school started to receive government funds in 2012, shows the school used curricula from the Saskatchewan Association of Independent Church Schools (SAICS). It also stated the SAICS curricula “is currently being realigned with Ministry of Education – foundational Objectives to Student Outcomes and Renewal.”
An education ministry spokesperson, in a statement, said inspectors visited the school in the fall of 2012 and in January of 2013.
The 2013 report shows the inspectors found the “intellectual, emotional and physical well-being of children is acceptable.”
The inspection form used in 2014 did not have the same box to check. But the inspector in a letter stated the school was found to be in compliance with the (Education) Act and (the Registered Independent School) Regulations with respect to facilities, educational activities, educational operations and school records.
The spokesperson said the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected inspections in 2020 and 2021.
Global News reached out to SAICS. The organization did not respond to interview requests or lists of detailed questions.
Global News reached out to Boutin and Rudoski several times for comment and also sent them a detailed list of questions.
Instead, an email from “Directors of Faith Alive Ministries” sent a message, stating “Our counsel has instructed us to remind you we are a Christian, faith-based school entitled by law and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to teach our students love of God out of a theological, anthropological, and moral perspective derived exclusively from what we sincerely hold as Biblical truth. That is what we do. That is what we have always done.”
“That is all we wish to be quoted on by way of written response.”
The statement did not deny Hamilton’s allegations.
On the Government of Canada’s website, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says “everyone in Canada is free to practise any religion or no religion at all”.
“However, these freedoms are not unlimited. There may be limits on how you express your religious beliefs if your way of doing so would infringe on the rights of others or undermine complex public programs and policies,” the government website states.
“Equality rights are at the core of the Charter. They are intended to ensure that everyone is treated with the same respect, dignity and consideration (i.e. without discrimination), regardless of personal characteristics such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, residency, marital status or citizenship.”
Several government documents explains how the Saskatchewan curricula is created and enacted.
A 2015 document from the Ministry of Education called Deepening the Discussion explains that relationship between the ministry, the boards of education and schools, while also outlining the importance of safety and acceptance of students.
“The Ministry of Education provides curricula, policy frameworks, guidelines and funding to support schools, while Boards of Education develop policies for school divisions. School divisions create policies that protect the rights, safety and freedoms of students. It is important for school divisions to regularly evaluate and update existing policies to reflect safety and acceptance for sexually and/or gender diverse students and their allies.”
The document also says one in 12 straight students report being verbally harassed about their perceived sexual orientation.
“Gender and/or sexually diverse students often experience fear, anxiety and isolation at school; they may be unable to concentrate on academic tasks and learn effectively.”
“Because homophobia and heterosexism are pervasive, failure to act against them allows them to continue. Inaction signals acceptance of homophobia and heterosexism. Schools need to take positive steps to change this climate.”
The document also states “What is ‘coming out’ and why is it important? Coming out is a personal process through which a person accepts their sexual orientation or gender identity as part of their overall identity.”
A 1988 teachers’ handbook called Understanding the Common Essential Learnings, which was released by Saskatchewan Education, also touched on a teacher’s role in stopping discrimination.
“Avoiding sexual stereotyping through language or action and being sensitive to sexual bias in the materials selected for classroom use. Encouraging greater understanding and friendship through grouping practices, seating arrangements, and other practices which do not unnecessarily segregate the sexes. Being clear that sexism, racism, and all forms of bias or discrimination are acts which violate respect for persons,” read the handbook.
Independent schools are also required to meet provincial guidelines.
The Registered Independent School Regulations (2018) states that “(e)ach registered independent school shall provide instruction in the required areas of study, as determined by the minister,” that the education must be “comparable in quality to that of schools administered by a board of education or the conseil scolaire” and that the board of an independent school may authorize its own programs and courses.
Global News also asked education minister Dustin Duncan for an interview and sent him a detailed list of questions.
In a statement, his office stated “the Government…is committed to ensuring that all students feel safe, protected, and respected in our schools and our communities.”
“All (QIS) must also follow applicable criteria.” … which includes “providing approved courses of study in accordance with provincial curriculum policy”
The response cited the Education Act, stating the provision for independent schools allows parents and guardians to educate their children in accordance with conscientious beliefs, which may include faith-based education.
“The Ministry of Education takes all allegations or complaints seriously and if allegations are criminal in nature, they are referred to the proper legal authorities to investigate.”
PCA is not facing any criminal charges and is not the subject of any criminal investigations.
The government statement did not address Hamilton’s allegations directly.
Hamilton said the government should more closely oversee the school or shut it down.
“There’s always going to be kids who happen to be gay in these types of schools,” he said.
“And something has to be done to save them.”
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