Sask. Christian school coach who sexually exploited, assaulted teen taken into custody ahead of sentencing

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) [Toronto, Canada]

January 4, 2024

By Kendall Latimer and Jessie Anton

Aaron Benneweis pleaded guilty to sexually exploiting and sexually assaulting Jennifer Beaudry

Warning: This story contains some details of sexual exploitation 

Jennifer Beaudry has been waiting years for Aaron Benneweis to face consequences for his crimes. 

On Thursday, she watched as he was led away from a Saskatoon courtroom in handcuffs. 

“It’s the first time I’ve seen him take any kind of accountability,” Beaudry said. “I didn’t really think this day was going to come.” 

In October 2023, Benneweis pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and exploiting Beaudry when she was a teenage student and athlete at the private Christian school formerly called Christian Centre Academy, now known as Legacy Christian Academy. 

A standing-room only crowd of people gathered to support her at the provincial courthouse in Saskatoon on Thursday, during a sentencing hearing for Benneweis, 47.

He was a coach and athletic director at the private Christian school at the time of the offences, which began in 2008 — when Beaudry was 13 years old — and continued until 2012.

The church and school community were tight-knit and intertwined, court heard on Thursday, meaning Beaudry’s family was close with Benneweis and she saw him at school and church daily. 

She said from 2008 to 2012, Benneweis’s behaviour escalated from inappropriate attention to her to secret meet-ups, both at school and off grounds, and sexual touching.

“I will forever be unable to take back the innocence you stole,” Beaudry said in a victim impact statement she read in court Thursday.

[VIDEO: Duration1:53 – Jennifer Beaudry reads parts of her victim impact statement before presenting it at the sentencing hearing for the private Christian school staff member who abused her. Former coach Aaron Benneweis is the first person to be guilty on charges related to the ongoing Christian school abuse scandal.]

Benneweis was taken into custody after Thursday’s hearing. Even though the Crown and defence don’t agree on the length of time he should serve, some jail time is inevitable because of the mandatory minimum associated with the offences. 

Legally, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual relations with an adult. That age rises to 18 in offences involving a person in a position of power.

Defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle says the minimum sentence Benneweis must face is 45 days. However, he argued a six-month sentence, followed by 30 months probation, would be appropriate. 

Crown prosecutor Sheryl Fillo argued six months was “totally inadequate” and asked for a sentence of two years less a day, followed by three years of probation. 

Justice Marilyn Gray reserved her decision until later this month.  

‘Anger for justice’

Typically, the media cannot name victims of sexual assault because of court-imposed publication bans, but Beaudry received permission from the court to have her name published so she could tell her story and fight for justice. 

Beaudry told CBC that trying to sum up the depths of her feelings as she prepared her victim impact statement was an emotional process. 

“A lot of it, I’ve been realizing, is like a deep sense of anger — but anger for justice, not just simple rage, even though that would be an easy path to go to,” she said. 

That led her to reflect on how Benneweis’s actions impacted every aspect of her life — and where she might be in life had the abuse not occurred. 

“I just really hope it hits him like a brick wall, in that this is a serious crime [he has] committed and whatever [his] excuses are, are garbage,” she told CBC prior to the hearing. 

“I really want him to see how this has affected me. I want him to see the reality and the severity of his actions and his behaviours, and I want to let him know that I’m not OK with it.”

She looked directly at Benneweis several times as she read her statement in court. 

“Aaron, I hope I’ve gone from your biggest fantasy to your worst f–king nightmare,” she said.

Offences came to light in 2013

Prior to the sentencing hearing, Beaudry hadn’t seen Benneweis since 2013. That’s when his offences came to light and he was terminated from his job at the school. 

His actions had been reported to Pastor Keith Johnson, the leader of the school and adjacent church at the time. Benneweis was removed from the school almost immediately and moved to Edmonton with his family not long after. 

The pastor had encouraged Beaudry and her mother, who also worked at the school, to file a police report. However, they said the pastor told them to tell police that it began when Beaudry was 16, not 13, to make it “easier on Aaron” — and they obliged.

The Beaudry family did not push for criminal consequences.

Court heard Beaudry’s mother was also an employee of the Christian school. 

In August 2022, Beaudry went back to police and explained that the offences occurred when she was under the age of 16. 

The police and Crown proceeded with criminal charges.

After the Thursday hearing, Beaudry said she was let down by the system and countless adults when the offences were first reported to people in positions of authority. 

“None of them did the right thing, so I had to come full circle. I’m here now. I fixed it myself.” 

Benneweis speaks in court 

On Thursday, Benneweis told the court he has felt “overwhelming guilt” for many years. 

“Saying sorry is not enough, and I agree, but I am very sorry,” he said. “I pursued [Beaudry] and it was wrong on so many levels.” 

Defence lawyer Pffeferle said his client has taken responsibility for his actions “from the outset,” and that while he didn’t face criminal consequences immediately, he did lose his job. 

He said Benneweis had a “significant judgment lapse over a period of time that had an enormous impact on this young woman.” 

He asked the judge to consider Benneweis’s expressions of remorse and guilt, his early admission of guilt during criminal proceedings, and his lack of criminal history, among other factors. 

Pffeferle said Benneweis — a father of two — has maintained significant and unwavering support from his wife, who attended the sentencing hearing, along with his extended family, his community and his employer.

Pffeferle also said Benneweis has raised $10,000 and wants to give that to Beaudry as restitution. 

Prosecutor Fillo took issue with that offer being included as part of the sentencing arguments, saying it appeared as though Benneweis was trying to buy his way out of consequences.

Justice Gray will release her sentencing decision on Jan. 18.

Whatever the judge decides, Beaudry said she won’t let that ruling define her healing. 

“At the end of the day, my closure is not attached to the number of months or years that he gets at all. It’s him facing the accountability and responsibility.” 

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.


Kendall Latimer and Jessie Anton


Kendall Latimer and Jessie Anton are reporters with CBC News in Saskatchewan.