LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A former teacher at a southern Alberta Hutterite school has escaped jail time after admitting to severely punishing his students through methods that included holding a lighter under some children’s fingers to show them what they might expect in hell.
Johan John Hofer, of the Waterton Hutterite Colony, pleaded guilty Tuesday to seven charges of assault with a weapon prior to the start of what was to be a four-day trial in Lethbridge.
The 48-year-old man was given a conditional sentence of two years less a day.
A courtroom packed with Hutterite ministers and relatives of the accused and victims heard that the assaults occurred between January 2005 and December 2015, when Hofer was the colony’s schoolmaster, a minister and a garden boss.
Crown prosecutor Darwyn Ross told the court that the assaults took place in school, in a barn, near a swimming area and other locations, and involved boys and girls as young as six and as old as 14.
Judge Derek Redman accepted a joint recommendation from Ross and defence lawyer Adriano Iovanelli for the sentence, which will be served in the community and involves house arrest and a curfew.
Ross told court that in the lighter incident, Hofer told two young boys he had seen playing with toy trucks outdoors to go into his house, where he sat them down and told them what “the devil was going to do to them.”
The boys were told to stick out their fingers before a lighter was held underneath them, with Hofer explaining “how hot hell was going to be.”
In another incident, a 12-year-old girl was discovered reading a book not approved by Hofer. She was bent over a stool and spanked with a strap on top of her clothes but on her buttocks in front of other students and told she was “worthless.”
The girl ended up leaving the colony when she was 17.
The court was also told how Hofer used belts, straps, a yard stick and even tree branches on several occasions to mete out punishment.
Ross said the children were often humiliated and that frequently there was no explanation of why they were being punished.
Iovanelli said Hofer’s intent was simply to discipline.
“My client did not intend to hurt the children,” he told the court, which also heard that Hofer has previously been stripped of his positions in the colony.
Before passing sentence, Redman said the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that only sober, reasoned force can be used to discipline children and under reasonable circumstances.
He said outbursts of violence against children that are motivated by anger or animated by frustration are not allowed, and that a parent or educator must explain what they are doing and why. (LethbridgeNewsNow)
The Canadian Press