Eleven months after his arrest, sentencing submissions were brought forward for a former staff member of a Saskatoon Christian school charged with sexual assault.
Aaron Benneweis, a former athletic coach at Legacy Christian Academy, pleaded guilty to sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor in October.
Benneweis was the first from the school to be arrested on criminal charges in February 2023 and has been the only one as of December to plead guilty.
Three other former staff members, Duff Friesen, John Olubobokun and Ken Schultz have also been arrested and pleaded not guilty to dozens of abuse charges. They are scheduled to stand trial in 2024.
At Benneweis’ hearing on Thursday, the Crown asked for a jail sentence of two year less a day followed by a three-year probation.
The defence asked for a shorter prison term, around six months, and the same probation term.
Complainant Jennifer Beaudry finally had her long-awaited moment Thursday when she addressed Benneweis in court with her victim impact statement.
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“I’m enjoying these moments,” Beaudry said outside the courthouse. “I cherish it deeply and the support that I have, which is why I’ve been so strong in all this.”
The court heard that during Beaudry’s time as a student at the academy, Benneweis would meet with her on and off campus, where he would hug her, ask her to take off her clothes, and sometimes kiss her.
According to the Crown, Benneweis took an interest in Beaudry in 2008, when she was 13, until 2012. Beaudry told the court their encounters left her feeling shameful, disgusted and confused.
“It’s a dance of emotions,” Beaudry said. “It’s a pendulum that goes back and forth and you just have to pick and choose what you deal with at one time.”
Benneweis also spoke in court, apologizing, saying he was at a low point in life and was only thinking about himself.
“He couldn’t even look me in the eye, even when I would pause and wait and address him,” Beaudry said after she read her statement to Benneweis. “It shows the dynamic where I have come, despite his behaviour.”
Beaudry said she is glad that Benneweis feels guilty, but said his excuses aren’t valid.
“It felt really good to see him in cuffs walking away. It’s the first time I’ve seen him take any kind of accountability.”
Benneweis, Friesen, Olubobokun and Schultz are also named alongside dozens of defendants in a $25 million lawsuit against Mile Two Church and the provincial government.
Legacy Christian Academy is run by Mile Two Church.
Former students of the school came forward in August 2022 alleging physical and sexual abuse occurred during their time at the school.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Benneweis was taken into custody after Thursday’s submissions. A decision on his sentencing is expected to be heard in two weeks.
— With files from Global News’ Erik Bay.
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