Aaron Travis Benneweis was a 32-year-old teacher, coach and athletic director at a Saskatoon Christian school when he started showing inappropriate sexual attention toward Jennifer Beaudry.
At the time, Beaudry was a 13-year-old student at Christian Centre Academy (since renamed Legacy Christian Academy), and Benneweis was her gym teacher and track and field coach, a Saskatoon provincial courtroom heard during Benneweis’s sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Benneweis would leave her notes, wink at her and bite his lip. He then started singling her out, asking her to meet him in secluded rooms during school hours.
Over the next four years, it progressed to more covert meetups where Benneweis would kiss and grope Beaudry in a van, a drama room, on a public trail by the river and in his own home over a lunch hour, starting when she was 14 years old, Crown prosecutor Sheryl Fillo said.
This was Beaudry’s first sexual experience; she attended an authoritative and insular school that provided no education around sex, power dynamics or consent, Fillo noted when reading the facts.
Benneweis pleaded guilty in October to the sexual assault and sexual exploitation of Beaudry between 2008 and 2012, when she was between 13 and 16 years old.
A standard publication ban on the identity of sexual assault complainants was lifted, at Beaudry’s request, in March.
A child under 16 years old cannot legally consent to sex acts with an adult. It is also illegal for a person in a position of trust or authority to have a sexual relationship with a person under 18.
“Mr. Benneweis agrees that as a result of his position of trust or authority over Jennifer, her apparent co-operation and participation in sexual touching was without consent for the entirety of their relationship and entirely criminal,” the facts state.
The now 47-year-old was charged and released on conditions after Beaudry made a police report in August 2022.
Court heard the matter was initially reported to police in January 2013, after Beaudry told her best friend about what was going on with Benneweis. It later got back to the head pastor of the school’s church, who met with Beaudry and asked her to lie to police about her age, Fillo said.
Benneweis was fired during a separate meeting; he moved to Edmonton with his wife and kids a short time later. The facts state Beaudry and her family decided not to pursue charges due to his firing and the conflicted position Beaudry’s mother was in as an employee at the school.
Court heard the two families were close, and Beaudry babysat Benneweis’s children.
Beaudry said she went to police in 2022 after reading about the first two people who came forward with allegations dating back to the 1980s against adults in positions of authority at the school and church.
Benneweis is one of four former administrators who have been charged criminally. A $25-million lawsuit has also been filed by several former students. The statement of claim, which contains allegations that have not been tested in court, alleges Legacy Christian Academy and Mile Two Church allowed church and teaching staff to spank and fondle students while perpetrating other physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
“I wish I could say that you’ve been dead to me for all these years. Little did you know as you ran away like a pig on a leash, I held the other end the entire time,” Beaudry said in court, reading from her victim impact statement.
She said Benneweis’s advances were perplexing; she felt awkward, trapped and not worthy of heaven — the biggest goal in her life. She described how Benneweis asked her to keep things a secret “no matter what” because his career and family life depended on it.
“I didn’t know how to live with myself. How could I let this happen?” she said, noting how after an assault in the school’s drama room, Benneweis had the audacity to ask her, “How is your relationship with God going?”
Staring at Benneweis, she told him he limited what she could achieve in her teenage years, “So you could make your own sexual fantasies come true. Was it worth it?”
She told court she has to take medication for PTSD, anxiety and nightmares, and has undergone extensive therapy.
“I will forever be unable to take back the innocence you stole from my 13-year-old self.”
Referencing the decision in R v. Friesen, which lays out sentencing guidelines for sexual assaults against children, Fillo argued for a sentence of two years less a day in jail followed by three years probation.
As part of his probation conditions, Fillo asked that Benneweis receive sex offender treatment in the community, as it is not offered in jail. She noted Benneweis only received marital counselling through the church to address what was perceived as an infidelity issue.
In his arguments, defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle noted that Benneweis’s assaults are not considered a “major sexual assault” because they did not include oral intercourse or penetration. He asked for a jail sentence in the range of six months, citing the fact that Benneweis doesn’t have a prior criminal record, is not considered a danger to society and has an “impeccable professional record” supported by reference letters from friends and colleagues.
Fillo argued it’s erroneous to assume that touching is less intrusive than penetration, and noted that children suffer more when their perpetrator is a trusted adult as opposed to a stranger.
Pfefferle told court his client is a married father who has suffered from the attention his case has received. He is embarrassed and wants to make amends for his actions, Pfefferle said.
He also asked for a 30-month probation order to follow the jail sentence, with conditions including a combination of house arrest and curfew, sex offender programming as directed, and having no contact with Beaudry.
“In the last decade, I have dedicated myself to reversing the damage that was done to myself, my family and the people around me. I pursued (Beaudry); it was wrong on so many levels, and it has a lasting and cascading impact on so many people,” Benneweis told court.
“I cannot reverse the mistakes that I made with her, so the only thing I can offer is the financial support.”
Benneweis offered to pay Beaudry $10,000 to compensate her for loss of income, therapy and medication resulting from his offences. Pfefferle said this demonstrates “putting your money where your mouth is” in a justice system that is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of offences.
Beaudry scoffed at the offer from the gallery.
Benneweis, who court heard was having marital issues when he assaulted Beaudry, said counselling has helped him seek help instead of validation, and to see that Beaudry’s age and stage of life made her vulnerable.
“Aaron, I hope I went from your biggest fantasy to your worst f*****g nightmare,” Beaudry said.
Judge Marilyn Gray has reserved her sentencing decision until Jan. 18. In the meantime, she agreed to have Benneweis taken into custody to start serving his sentence. His offences carry a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 45 days.
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