A former German teacher in a southern Alberta Hutterite community who terrorized and abused children for more than a decade has pleaded guilty to seven counts of assault with a weapon.
Johan Hofer, 48, admitted to beating children in the Waterton Hutterite Colony and in his class with straps, tree branches — and in one case, burning them with a lighter to show them how hot hell would be.
Judge Derek Redman of the Provincial Court of Alberta imposed a two-year conditional sentence order, meaning Hofer will serve his sentence in the community under conditions that include house arrest for 12 months and a curfew for the remaining year.
Because of the abuse they suffered between 2002 and 2013, several children left the colony at Hill Spring, Alta. — some 70 kilometres southwest from Lethbridge — before their 18th birthdays to get away from Hofer, according to the facts read aloud by the prosecutor.
Dozens of male ministers from Hutterite colonies across the Prairies showed up in court, filling the room.
When asked their opinions on Hofer staying in the community, one elder from Waterton said the case has been “very, very emotional for the colony and for the church.”
If he causes no arguments, “it will be for the good to come together as one family to serve our heavenly father,” said the elder.
Since the charges were laid, many of the victims’ families have been ostracized from the community, according to prosecutor Darwyn Ross.
Hofer was to go on trial this week on 14 counts of assault with a weapon but pleaded to half the counts instead.
The court heard Tuesday what some of the victims endured.
In several cases, Hofer would have children kneel on the hard tile for the duration of his class. Often he would have his victims — who ranged in ages from six to 14 — bend over a stool and would whip them with a leather strap in front of their classmates.
The children described feeling not only intense physical pain but also humiliation.
“Most days I was afraid to leave the house,” wrote one of Hofer’s victims in an impact statement.
The boy, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said his days always ended in tears and he felt as though he had nowhere to hide.
‘Did not intend to hurt the children’
One girl said the pain was often a 10 out of 10 after Hofer hit her hands and backside with a belt, tree branches and yardsticks.
Another victim described being hit in the side with a stick so hard he bled through his shirt. The boy was guilty, in Hofer’s opinion, of failing to write out his German verses quickly enough.
Redman asked the lawyers involved if Hofer simply “went way too far” in his effort to discipline.
Defence lawyer Adriano Iovinelli agreed with the judge’s suggestion.
“My client did not intend to hurt the children,” said Iovinelli. “The intent was for the discipline.”
Iovinelli compared his client’s actions to old-school corporal punishment, which the senior defence lawyer said even he suffered as a child.
This story originally appeared on CBC