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Abuse Allegation Summary, Question & Answer

Summary

In the fall of 2011, Prairie’s leadership team became aware of allegations of abuse by individuals who were connected with Prairie Bible Institute. Most of the incidents in question dated back several decades, yet we deemed the allegations serious enough to approach the RCMP and pledge our full cooperation and availability in any investigations they wished to open.

In addition to encouraging anyone with complaints to go straight to the authorities, we also opened channels where individuals could share their experiences. These options included contacting the President (Mark Maxwell), a direct contact on the school’s Board, a group of alumni (PBI Healing Team), and finally Centre Street Church who served as a respected independent third party. Our communication items throughout this process are available on the “President’s Corner” of Prairie’s Website and are linked below.

November 15, 2011 (Statement)

December 16, 2011 (Email to Constituents)

February 14, 2012 (Update)

April 2, 2012 (Update)

We have heard from many of you since last fall and have been grateful for the feedback and questions that have guided us along the way. The Question & Answer section below has been developed to answer questions that some are asking.

We know that there is a risk in publicly communicating this way. To quote a wise friend of mine, “Not unexpectedly, whatever is actually communicated can be misrepresented by those who are operating with their own agenda.”  Everyone has their own lens to look through and we live in a world of free press and free speech.  That is a privilege we would not want to deny them.  If you have comments or further questions, please feel free to contact me at Mark.Maxwell@prairie.edu.

Sincerely,

Mark L. Maxwell
President
September 12, 2012

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Question & Answer

  1. Can you explain your strategy in responding to these allegations of abuse? 
  2. Why are you not responding publicly? 
  3. How many abuse allegations are there and what was the nature of them? 
  4. Do you believe that there is truth to these allegations? 
  5. How do you feel about these stories of pain and abuse? 
  6. Prairie has been accused of a “Cover-Up.”  Was there one?
  7. How have you informed the Board of Directors and what action has it taken? 
  8. What is in place at Prairie to ensure that abuse does not occur in the future? 
  9. Where are Prairie’s current harassment, abuse and assault policies? 
  10. What is the status of the RCMP investigation?
  11. What was Centre Street Church’s involvement?
  12. What should people do if they feel they were victims of abuse while at Prairie?


1. Can you explain your strategy in responding to these allegations of abuse?

Our Leadership Team and Board’s strategy has been to address these allegations openly and directly with our staff, faculty, students, alumni, constituency and media. Our desire has also been to be available and attentive to all who want to share their stories with us, however painful.  

Our objectives are to seek God’s wisdom in all we do; to be honest and transparent in all our communications; to be available to victims to listen to their stories; to fully cooperate in any investigations; to respect due legal process and Canadian privacy laws; to seek advice from those who have expertise and experience in this area; and to have policies & practices that ensure abusive behaviour finds no safe harbor at Prairie.

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2. Why are you not responding publicly? 

“There have only been a handful of communication items and your silence is being perceived as an admission of guilt or standard operating procedure for Christian organizations that are trying to save face.

We have refrained from responding to questions/comments in the public forum because we are not sure how effective that would be.  There are several reasons for this:

  • The public forum can quickly turn to a forum for public debate which can be very hurtful;
  • We believe private issues are not for public consumption and entertainment;
  • We do not want to cause further injury.  Imagine the justifiable emotion and anger if we had a “perfect” and “scripted” answer for every accusation;
  • Public silence does not mean inactivity.  We have simply chosen to be active in ways that we believe will build relationships with people, encourage healing and reconciliation, and ensure Prairie is a safe place to work and go to school. Much of this is necessarily behind the scenes.
  • We do understand that some individuals, including those who claim that they speak on behalf of Prairie, are active in the public forum. While they mean well and we appreciate their support, their opinions are not necessarily those of Prairie or its leadership.


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3. How many abuse allegations are there and what was the nature of them?

Currently we are aware of as many as a dozen abuse allegations. The majority of these are domestic abuse cases that happened while the victim was a child, while the family was living in the Prairie community, and were disclosed years after the alleged incident.

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4. Do you believe that there is truth to these allegations?

Yes, we believe that there have been instances of abuse within the Prairie community. While most instances of abuse reported to us happened in private homes and not within the context of the school, we are tremendously sorry for any that happened within our community.

Whether these events happened in the privacy of individual homes or on campus, they were wrong.  Whether or not they were reported at the time, they were wrong.  Whether or not they can be charged, they were wrong.  In some cases we have heard from both the victim and the alleged perpetrator and heard the account of what happened as well as the accounts of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation that followed many years later.

The law is fairly clear: “crimes are committed by individuals against individuals, the school may have been the location of the crime”.  We have every interest in identifying with those individuals who have been abused and helping them find resolution when appropriate, with the individual who committed the crime.  Some prefer to tell us their story and leave it there.  That is their privilege and we greatly respect their wishes except in cases where there is legal responsibility to report, in which case we work with the individual to report accordingly.

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5. How do you feel about these stories of pain and abuse?

Simply, that even one abuse is an offence to our Christian faith and incalculably damaging to the abuser, victim and their families. We are tremendously sorry that anyone has experienced pain within the Prairie community.

We are talking about human beings that have been created in the image of God. That anyone would take advantage of someone else’s vulnerability is despicable. We have heard directly from the RCMP and they have indicated that they have completed their investigations and that there will be no charges laid. However, just because these investigations are closed and charges have not been laid, does not mean that abuse did not happen. The difficulty is that it often becomes one person’s word against another’s—driving wedges deeper and making healing that much harder to attain. While we believe that healing should be pursued between the affected parties, we acknowledge that reconciliation is not always possible.  We wish to respect each healing journey and we are glad to assist, as we are able.

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6. Prairie has been accused of a “Cover-Up.”  Was there one?

No.  As these allegations were brought to our attention in the fall of 2011, we informed the Management Team, the Prairie Board, staff and faculty, and the entire student body. We took a printout of the “chatter” on Facebook to the RCMP. We asked the students to “Please stop by the President’s Office on their way BACK from reporting to the RCMP, if they are aware of any abuse that is presently happening on this campus.” 

Our objective has been to be reasonably transparent and to be available, especially to people who may have been abused while in the Prairie community.

There are documented cases of incidents where abuse or inappropriate behavior did in fact occur within the Prairie community. In these cases the situations were handled swiftly and appropriately.  We have done our own internal investigation including following up with past Presidents and former staff members and have found no evidence of collusion or cover-up.  We have also opened ourselves up to appropriate authorities and they have found no evidence of collusion or cover up. The sad reality is that where abuse happened, it seems to be primarily within the privacy of individual homes. As connected as the Prairie and Three Hills community has been, we don’t believe that Prairie purposefully keeping abuse allegations “quiet” could have been possible.

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7. How have you informed the Board of Directors and what action has it taken?

The board chair and president connect weekly for updates and advice.  The board and management team have been continuously informed of developments since September.  It was top of agenda in October 2011 when the board met.  Their advice was sought and taken and they offered one person as a contact point for any who wished to approach them directly.  When they met in April 2012, they added a by-law to the Prairie constitution requiring the school to maintain a current policy on abuse, assault or harassment.

The policy that we have in place was last reviewed in 2010. It is being reviewed now for presentation to the Board at the October 2012 meeting and will be reviewed and updated at least every three years.

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8. What is in place at Prairie to ensure that abuse does not occur in the future?

Our entire community is purposed together to ensure that abuse does not happen on our campus.

First, we believe that we have stringent and practical policies in place that can be accessed here.

Second, we are planning an abuse awareness chapel every fall for students, staff and faculty.  This will involve bringing in external professionals who will provide training on recognition of abuse and then provide guidelines on appropriate responses within the context of a college environment.

Third, we have an excellent group of external advisors that include alumni, counseling professionals, abuse victims and ministry leaders. We look to them for input and direction as we communicate, amend policies and help those that need it.

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9. Where are Prairie’s current harassment, abuse and assault policies?

Prairie’s current abuse policies, revised in 2010, are posted on our employment page and can be accessed directly here. These are being revised to incorporate what we have learned in the past year as well as best practices in place at other colleges and universities.

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10. What is the status of the RCMP investigation?

We met with the RCMP in early September 2012 and they reported that all allegations have been investigated and that no charges would be forthcoming. Any investigation of Prairie and any past or current employees is now closed.

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11. What was Centre Street Church’s involvement?

In addition to providing direct avenues to Prairie, we had been advised to set up a neutral independent third party where individuals could share their personal accounts. It was important to us that the person or organization was not conflicted by virtue of any relationship with Prairie, that it was respected, and had the competency to address the issues.

We asked Centre Street Church in Calgary, a prominent Canadian church with professional counselors on staff, if they could fill this role and they agreed to do so until June 2012.  Their role was to offer a safe and secure place for injured people to be heard and given professional advice on steps to move forward, including directing individuals to the appropriate authorities, referring them for additional counseling or bringing them to the appropriate parties at Prairie if necessary.  The contact person at the church was Rev. Miriam Mollering, Ph.D, Pastor of Life Care Ministries, a well-qualified professional counselor with extensive experience and expertise.

While some people had approached Centre Street Church after the initial invitation, they indicated that they would like to discontinue the service in March 2012 as no new calls had been received in the previous 4 weeks.  We are tremendously grateful for the part they played and the advice they gave us.  They have been generous and gracious in offering this service and we are grateful to them for all they have done for us.

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12. What should people do if they feel they were victims of abuse while at Prairie?

We continue to invite anyone with allegations of abuse to take appropriate action. The school, and the President, personally, continue to be available for any who wish to contact us directly. In addition, we strongly encourage anyone with complaints to go straight to the RCMP. They can be contacted at 403-443-5539 (Three Hills detachment).

We also have an amazing group of alumni around the world. Many of them have offered to help in any way possible.  A dozen of them have self-organized into a volunteer group that is independent of Prairie. They have committed a great deal of time to working with any alumni who wish to contact them.  Those who would like to contact them may do so directly at prairiealums.healing@gmail.com.

For those who wish to reach us directly, the President’s Office can be reached at 403-443-3030 or mark.maxwell@prairie.edu.

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