‘Self-styled’ Edmonton spiritual leader of Oasis charged with sexual assault

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Self-proclaimed Edmonton Oasis spiritual leader charged with sexual assault
John de Ruiter, 63, has been a self-proclaimed spiritual leader of the Oasis Group for decades and garnered hundreds of followers. Now, Edmonton police say that dynamic has entered criminal territory. Dan Grummett reports. – Jan 23, 2023

The leader of a spiritual and community group known as the College of Integrated Philosophy or Oasis Group has been charged with four counts of sexual assault.

Edmonton police said 63-year-old Johannes (John) de Ruiter was arrested on Saturday and charged with sexually assaulting four complainants in separate incidents between 2017 and 2020.

In a news release Monday, EPS describes the accused as a “self-styled” and “self-appointed” spiritual leader.

The Oasis Group operated out of the Oasis Building in west Edmonton — at 109 Avenue and 177 Street — from 2007 to 2021.

Building where John de Ruiter events were scheduled 214 St Albert Trail. Jan. 23, 2023. Global News

Police said de Ruiter “is currently holding meetings at an office building on St. Albert Trail in St. Albert, and offers spiritual retreats out of a campground near Smith, Alta.”

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Building where John de Ruiter events were scheduled 214 St Albert Trail. Jan. 23, 2023. Global News

Police were told that the accused “informed certain female group members that he was directed by a spirit to engage in sexual activity with them, and that engaging in sexual activity with him will provide them an opportunity to achieve a state of higher being or spiritual enlightenment.”

In an emailed response, the College of Integrated Philosophy said: “de Ruiter will be represented by legal counsel and intends to vigorously contest these charges in a court of law.

“This situation is deeply impactful for those who have known and do know Mr. de Ruiter.”

Stephen Kent is an emeritus professor in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta who has been following de Ruiter and Oasis for decades.

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Kent told Global News he even attended some of de Ruiter’s meetings back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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He said followers “believe that de Ruiter is the living embodiment of truth and being around him and trying to follow his teachings will lead to their own spiritual enlightenment and advancement.”

The Oasis group operates on two fronts, Kent said — as a spiritual organization and as a business.

“de Ruiter portrayed himself as a spiritual teacher and his followers saw him in those regards. The Oasis organization, however, is a business. de Ruiter never sought charitable status for his so-called religious and spiritual teachings.”

Kent estimates there are less than 400 devout followers — some in Edmonton, some further north, and around the world.

John de Ruiter, self-appointed spiritual leader of Oasis Group in Edmonton. Charged Jan. 21, 2023 with four counts of sexual assault. Credit: Facebook/John de Ruiter

He says generally, in groups like this, a spiritual leader using claims of advancement as a reason for members to have sex with them is very common.

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“What happens in these groups is there may be other people who have been victimized. They’re often, however, afraid to come forward. They still have family members in the group, they’re afraid of retaliation by fanatical members, they’re afraid of the power they believe these leaders hold over them,” Kent explained.

“Individuals sometimes feel shame, they feel guilt, they want to put it behind them.”

Kent stressed that it’s important in this case to focus on the criminal allegations and charges.

“The issue is whether there were criminal violations that occurred in the (alleged) sexual interactions.

“Consent is very complicated when the person committing the sexual actions has a leadership or fiduciary relationship — a relationship of power — over the targeted individuals.”

This case has the potential to be precedent-setting, Kent believes.

“A number of issues will come forward in this case almost certainly. Issues about consent, free will, fiduciary responsibilities of a person in an educational position of power, and possibly in a spiritual position of power.

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EPS investigators believe there could be other victims and are asking them to come forward.

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Police can be reached at 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone. Anonymous information can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online.

Mary Jane James, director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, said this situation is disturbing.

“I realize these are allegations at this point — nothing has been proven in court — but certainly the fact that there are four victims who’ve come forward… you might jump to the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire type of scenario.

“I suspect there will be more,” she said.

James wasn’t aware of the accused but said cases like this involving spiritual leaders aren’t uncommon.

“This is not the first time we’ve heard about these sorts of incidents within faith-based organizations. We’ve been hearing about that for decades.

“These people, these faith leaders, are in a position of power. And often they connect that power to the person’s spiritual journey or spiritual healing,” James said.

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Speaking generally, she added: “A person in power should never be taking advantage, in that way, someone who isn’t in power.

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“It happens every single day and not necessarily in this context, but it’s the same sort of situation: power versus no power.”

James pointed out that sexual assault cases are very difficult to prosecute, adding the cases which often involve only two people can have a “he said, she said” dynamic.

“The EPS did a lot of investigating before they laid these charges,” James said.

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